Senior women who do more moderate-to-vigorous physical activity in addition to walking had a lower risk of developing mild cognitive impairment or dementia, a new study found.
The study, conducted by researchers from the University of San Diego, reported that for women aged 65 or older, each additional 31 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity was associated with a 21 percent lower risk of developing dementia.
Walking an extra 1,865 steps per day was also associated with a 33 percent lower risk.
More than 55 million people were living with dementia worldwide in 2022, and there are nearly 10 million new cases every year, according to the World Health Oraganization.
Once diagnosed, it is difficult to slow or reverse dementia which is why prevention is important, particularly because there is no known cure for the disease yet.
Physical activity has been identified as one of the most promising ways to reduce risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Other prevention methods include maintaining a healthy weight, stopping smoking, eating a healthy and balanced diet and keeping blood pressure at a healthy level.
“Given that the onset of dementia begins 20 years or more before symptoms show, the early intervention for delaying or preventing cognitive decline and dementia among older adults is essential,” senior study author Andrea LaCroix, Ph.D., M.P.H., Distinguished Professor at the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science at UC San Diego, said in a statement last week.
The study analyzed data from 1,277 women as part of two Women’s Health Initiative ancillary studies in which the women wore research-grade accelerometers to measure physical activity and sitting.
The findings showed that higher amounts of sitting and prolonged sitting were not associated with higher risk of mild cognitive impairment or dementia. However, further research is needed among large diverse populations, including men.
“Older adults can be encouraged to increase movement of at least moderate intensity and take more steps each day for a lower risk of mild cognitive impairment and dementia,” said Steve Nguyen, Ph.D., M.P.H., postdoctoral scholar at the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health.
“The findings for steps per day are particularly noteworthy because steps are recorded by a variety of wearable devices increasingly worn by individuals and could be readily adopted.”
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