By Dr. Allison Ostroff, geriatric medicine, Nuvance Health Medical Practice
Your doctor has told you before — stay active. Now, there’s more evidence that just going for a brisk daily walk is beneficial to your health ― specifically your brain health.
A 2022 study published in JAMA Neurology found walking around 9,800 steps each day may significantly reduce a person’s risk of developing dementia.
The faster the walk, the higher the benefit. When adults in the study walked at a higher intensity of 40 steps per minute, the risk was reduced by more than 50 percent within seven years.
Interestingly, even at a moderate 3,800 steps each day, the rate of dementia decreased by 25 percent.
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This study is more evidence in support of the benefits of physical activity for maintaining optimal brain health. It also is encouraging for older people who are more sedentary, as 4,000 daily steps is equivalent to an easy 1.5 to 2 miles.
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As a geriatrician, we focus on our patients’ cognitive health, which is the ability to think clearly, learn and remember. Dementia is one of the hardest and scariest diagnoses we help patients and family members navigate.
As we age, there are changes in the brain no one wants to happen. While some risk factors are not within our control, our lifestyle choices are. Thanks to growing scientific research, we have evidence as to why we should modify our behaviors now and optimize our longevity.
Here are healthy habits I recommend:
Walk. You don’t have to run marathons to benefit from an easy 30-minute daily walk. If you don’t walk now, start with those 4,000 steps. If already walk daily, aim for power walks and increase your cadence. You can use a fitness tracker on your wrist or cellphone to count your steps and your heart rate.
Socialize. Stimulate your mind with activities and gatherings of friends to keep your brain engaged and active.
Eat right. High-quality nutrition, which combines the Mediterranean diet and Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is ideal.
Stop. If you smoke or drink alcohol regularly, you should stop. These habits damage your body and brain ― and put you at risk for health conditions, from dementia to diabetes and heart disease.
See your doctor. Regular checkups with your primary care and follow-up visits with recommended specialists are important for early detection and prevention.
Forgetting a name or your car keys isn’t a sign you are developing Alzheimer’s disease. However, if you are age 65 or older, your risk for dementia does increase. That is why taking preventive steps now and having a supportive healthcare system are so important.
If you do suspect you or a loved one has a memory issue, a geriatrician can help ensure you receive early detection and quality-of-life interventions as soon as possible.
Dr. Allison Ostroff is Nuvance Health’s Healthy Aging Program medical director in Connecticut. She is fellowship trained and board certified in both internal and geriatric medicine.