Study: Walk 3,800 to 9,800 steps daily to reduce dementia risk

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Walking 9,800 steps per day may be optimal to lower the risk of dementia, but even 3,800 steps daily is beneficial, a new study suggests. Photo by Silvia/Pixabay

Walking between 3,800 steps and 9,800 steps daily may significantly reduce an older person’s risk of dementia, a new study indicates.

“Our findings suggest that approximately 9,800 steps per day may be optimal to lower the risk of dementia. We estimated the minimum dose at approximately 3,800 steps per day, which was associated with 25% lower incident dementia,” the researchers said in a paper published Tuesday in JAMA Neurology.

Taking more steps per day was associated with steady declines in the risk of dementia: Adults who took about 9,800 steps per day had a 50% decrease in their dementia risk. After that point, only limited benefits were found.

The study also highlights the importance of “stepping intensity” for preventing dementia.

The largest decreases in dementia risk were associated with taking approximately 6,300 “purposeful” steps per day — for a 57% decrease in risk.

And, according to the researchers, the optimal peak is a brisk 112 steps per minute for the 30 highest, not necessarily consecutive, minutes of a person’s day. That “peak 30-minute cadence” was associated with a 62% decrease in dementia risk.

The study adjusted for numerous factors including age, sex, ethnicity, education, smoking, alcohol use, diet, medication use, sleep and history of cardiovascular disease.

It was led by Borja del Pozo Cruz in the Department of Sports Science and Clinical Biomechanics, Centre for Active and Healthy Ageing at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense, Denmark, together with researchers from The University of Sydney, in Camperdown, New South Wales, Australia.

In an accompanying editorial, researchers from the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center in the Department of Medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison said the study’s emphasis might be misplaced for promoting the public’s buy-in of walking as a way to ward off dementia.

“While 112 steps a minute is a rather brisk cadence, ‘112’ is conceivably a much more tractable and less intimidating number for most individuals than ’10 000,’ especially if they have been physically inactive or underactive,” Elizabeth Planalp and Ozioma C. Okonkwo wrote.

The 30-minute period analyzed in the study was not consecutive, “which somewhat limits the strength of their evidence,” the editorial writers said, but it would have been informative if the investigators had also tried to determine whether people who only kept up this brisk pace for, say, 10 minutes “also realized similar benefits.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, the average American walks 3,000 to 4,000 steps a day, or roughly 1.5 miles to 2 miles.

Mayo suggests taking an individualized approach, finding out how many steps a day a person is walking now, and then working gradually toward the popular recommended target of 10,000 steps, if possible, “by aiming to add 1,000 extra steps a day every two weeks.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that to gain the most health benefits from physical activity, adults need at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, weekly — but any amount of physical activity has some benefits.

The new study followed 78,430 adults, aged 40 to 79 who wore wrist accelerometers, for nearly seven years. The participants were drawn from the U.K. Biobank, a large-scale biomedical database used for international research.

Researchers looked at the incidence of dementia as recorded in medical and death records nearly seven years later.

The editorial writers said this wide age range of adults, given the relatively short follow-up, may not have been appropriate to assess dementia as an outcome. Younger participants may not have reached an age at which the condition would occur, they noted.

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