Just 25 minutes of walking a day could stave off the debilitating effects of dementia, a new study claims.Researchers in Canada monitored a group of 38 adults with vascular cognitive impairment (VCI), the second most common cause of dementia after Alzheimer’s.
They found that those who took a few brisk walks a week – amounting to three hours in total – experienced an improvement in brain function. After six months, they had improved reaction times and other signs of improved brain function, the Canadian team reports in British Journal of Sports Medicine.
The team said their research also suggests regular brisk walks could reduce one’s risk of developing VCI in the first place. The brain is a highly metabolic organ and to keep it healthy, it requires good blood flow to deliver the necessary nutrients and oxygen to its tissues.
VCI refers to mildly impaired thinking or more advanced dementia that’s due to the same kinds of blood vessel damage seen with heart disease elsewhere in the body.
Aerobic exercise may also benefit the brain by increasing growth factors, which are substances made by the body that promote cell growth, differentiation and survival, she said.
“It is well established that regular aerobic exercise improves cardiovascular health and cerebrovascular health,” the study’s senior author Teresa Liu-Ambrose said.
“More specifically, it reduces one’s risk of developing chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes (type II), and high cholesterol.“These chronic conditions have a negative impact on the brain – likely through compromised blood flow to the brain.” Liu-Ambrose is a researcher with the Aging, Mobility, and Cognitive Neuroscience Lab at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.
She and a research team randomly assigned 38 older adults with mild VCI to one of two groups.One group followed an aerobic training program consisting of three one-hour walking classes each week for six months, while the other group continued with their usual care.
In addition, both groups were given information about vascular cognitive impairment and tips for eating a healthier diet.Before the exercise program began and at the end of six months, all the participants also had functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) brain scans and other tests that measured neural activity and cognitive ability.
People in the aerobic training group had significant improvements in their reaction times on the cognitive tests, and showed changes in their brain activity that made them resemble healthy brains more. The comparison group showed no changes.
Overall, exercise appears to be a promising strategy for promoting cognitive health in older adults, Liu-Ambrose said.“While more research is needed to better understand how it brings about its benefits and what factors may impact the degree of benefit observed, there is minimal negative consequence of exercising,” she said.
Liu-Ambrose said she doesn’t know if exercise can actually prevent VCI because there have been no studies to determine that. “However, population based studies do suggest that physical activity does reduce the risk of developing VCI. Moreover, as mentioned earlier, aerobic exercise is very effective in reducing vascular risk factors associated with VCI, such as high blood pressure.”