Quick Study: Walking may prevent memory problems in older people

(Peter Titmuss/alamy)
Monday, October 25, 2010; 4:08 PM


Walking may preserve gray matter and stave off memory problems

THE QUESTION Might a regular walking regimen protect against the memory loss that occurs when the brain shrinks in old age?

THIS STUDY involved 299 people who averaged 78 years old and had no cognitive problems at the start of the study. The distances they walked weekly were recorded, MRI scans measured their brains' gray matter (the part of the brain responsible for thinking) and they were given standardized cognitive tests. After 13 years, 116 participants had diagnoses of mild cognitive impairment or dementia. Those who walked six to nine miles a week had greater gray matter volume nine years after the start of the study than those who walked less or not at all; walking farther showed no added benefit. They also were half as likely to have developed memory problems in the 13-year span as were the others.

WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? Older people. Walking has been shown to boost a person's energy and mood, benefit muscles and bones, help control weight and lower the risk for such health problems as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.

CAVEATS Data on walking distances were based on the participants' reports and were obtained only at the start of the study. The study did not rule out that other factors, such as ill health, might have led to reduced amounts of walking and loss of gray matter volume.

FIND THIS STUDY Oct. 19 issue of Neurology.

LEARN MORE ABOUT memory loss at www.familydoctor.org and www.nia.nih.gov.

- Linda Searing

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.

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