How Walking Can Ward Off Dementia

By Erin Palinski-Wade

According to the Mayo Clinic, dementia is not a specific disease; rather, the term describes a group of symptoms that affect thinking and social abilities enough to interfere with daily functioning. Although many causes of dementia exist, Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of progressive dementia.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates 35.6 million individuals are affected by dementia worldwide. In addition, it’s estimated that one in every eight older Americans suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.

Risk factors for developing dementia are similar to those for heart disease and diabetes. Having an elevated blood pressure or high cholesterol levels can significantly increase your risk. Having a wide waistline or too much belly fat can up your odds as well. In fact, a study published in Neurology found that having a wide waistline tripled the risk for memory and thinking problems later in life for overweight individuals.

And the same study found even individuals who were at a healthy body weight but carried too much visceral fat had double the risk for developing these problems as compared to individuals with less belly fat. Walking on a regular basis has been shown to lower body fat, shrink the waistline, and lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels — all factors that when reduced can also reduce the risk of dementia.

So how much walking is enough when it comes to the fight against dementia? One Italian study found that individuals ages 65 and older who burned 417 calories per week (which averages out to walking about 5 miles per week at a moderate pace) were 27 percent less likely to develop dementia compared to individuals of the same age who were sedentary. This averages out to walking just 1 mile five days per week!

As you can see, with just a small amount of effort, you can fight numerous diseases as well as keep your brain sharp just by walking!