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Walk Away From Dementia

Elderly Who Walk 2 Miles a Day Cut Dementia Risk
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Sept. 21, 2004 -- To keep your mind working, keep your feet moving.

Elderly people who walk the most have the best mental function, according to two new studies in the Sept. 22/29 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

University of Virginia researcher Robert D. Abbott, PhD, and colleagues looked at elderly men ranging in age from 71 to 93. Those who walked more than 2 miles a day were nearly half as likely to get dementia as men who walked less than one-quarter mile a day.

Harvard researcher Jennifer Weuve, ScD, and colleagues looked at elderly women aged 70 to 81. Women who walked at an easy pace for at least 90 minutes a week had better mental function than those who walked less than 40 minutes a week.

"Physically capable elderly men who walk more regularly are less likely to develop dementia," Abbott and colleagues write. "Promoting active lifestyles may have important effects on late-life [mental] function."

Exercise: the Fountain of Youth?

The Abbott study looked at a 2,260 men who live in Hawaii. The effects of walking in this group of men were also shown to reduce the risk of death, heart disease, and fatal cancers.

However, walking did not overcome the bad health effects of smoking. Among smokers, walking did not cut dementia risk. But smoking itself was linked to a higher risk of dementia.

The Weuve study looked at nearly 19,000 women enrolled in the Nurses' Health Study.

"Higher levels of long-term regular physical activity were strongly associated with higher levels of [mental] function and less [mental] decline," Weuve and colleagues write.

If there's a fountain of youth, it may be physical activity. Weuve's team found that the most active women seemed years younger.

"The apparent [mental] benefits of greater physical activity were similar in extent to being about three years younger in age and were associated with a 20% lower risk of [mental] impairment."

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