A recent study out of England found that walking just under 10,000 steps a day reduces a person’s risk of developing dementia by 50 percent. Pick up the pace to a “brisk” walk (over 40 steps per minute), and that risk goes down even further. Perhaps most strikingly, the authors found that even a low number of daily steps was associated with a reduced risk of dementia.
The walking study is the latest finding in a long line of research that links exercise to our brain health. In fact, some authors have suggested that through a brain-healthy lifestyle, an individual may reduce their lifetime risk by 70 percent. I’ve found that the health interventions that benefit the brain and the whole body are the most impactful. Get physically active. Mentally stimulated. Socially connected. Lower your blood pressure, your cholesterol, and your blood sugar.
You don’t have to be a brain expert to know that healthy habits lead to healthy living. But it’s nice when a brain expert offers quantifiable reminders. So, here are a few:
Walk. Cardiovascular health has been linked to better brain health. Improving your cardio fitness does not need to be strenuous or difficult. It can be as easy as walking for 30 minutes a day. Check your pulse rate at the end of your walks and track it over a month. See the number fall? That’s a good indication that your heart (and your brain) are benefitting from your efforts.
Eat well. Reducing your sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol not only improves heart health but brain health, as well. That’s because high blood sugar levels and high blood pressure cause blood vessels in the brain to affect thinking and memory.
See your doctor. Many physicians are equipped with resources for our aging population – especially for cognition and brain health. Your primary care physician can provide tools and education to guide patients with baseline assessments and screenings. This means your doctor is better informed than ever to help you identify early signs of cognitive decline – and direct you to the help you might need.
Forgetting a name from time to time or misplacing your keys does not mean you are on the road to Alzheimer’s disease. As we get older, it is natural for our brains to get a little slower (if also a little wiser). However, should your cognitive problems get worse over time or interfere with your day-to-day life, it might be time to see a specialist.
Several neurological diseases cause a progressive decline in memory, thinking, reasoning, personality, or behavior. Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, Lewy body disease, and others all fall under the umbrella term “dementia.” If you’re over the age of 65, you are at increased risk of developing dementia. In fact, it is estimated that 50 percent of people have changes in the brain that could lead to dementia. That is why taking steps to lower your risk is so important.
Nine thousand eight hundred and twenty-six of them, to be exact.
Aaron Ritter is a psychiatrist, Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian’s Pickup Family Neurosciences Institute.
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