I WALK WHENEVER I could – honed by the fact that I am from Visca, where walking is a way of life especially during the early years. It is a happy coincidence and a bonus that I am married to the undefeated champion of walkathon at VSU.

As it turns out, walking is associated with better vascular profiles, which is probably the clearest pathway through which steps may benefit dementia. Thus, research shows that it’s “likely that vascular dementia is the most preventable through physical activity.”

Vascular dementia is dementia caused by brain damage from impaired blood flow to the brain. It’s the second most common type of dementia, after Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Society.

While 10,000 steps cut the risk of dementia by half, the study showed that a smaller amount of steps, around 4,000, could cut the risk by a quarter, and 4,000 steps per day is less intimidating than 10,000 for many, so it may be a powerful message to motivate the most inactive and less fit individuals.

The analysis of data from more than 78,000 adults also revealed that half an hour of walking at a brisk pace was associated with a 62% decline in the risk of dementia.

Probably the biggest takeaway is that 10,000 steps may be the optimal number of steps to reduce the risk of dementia, cutting it by 50%. Faster steps provide superior results.  

A step count of 3,826 was associated with a 25% decrease in the risk of dementia, and when people moved with a “purposeful” stride, the biggest decrease, 57%, was associated with 6,315 steps per day. A significant finding was the big decrease in risk associated with walking at a pace of 112 steps per minute for 30 minutes, which was linked with a 68% decrease in risk.

Another analysis of the same data found that participants who walked briskly, about 80 to 100 steps a minute, even for short periods had a 30% lower risk of developing dementia compared to people who walked roughly the same amount at a slower pace. They also had reduced risk of developing cancer and cardiovascular disease. Essentially, the data showed that walking briskly for even just a few thousand steps can improve health outcomes.

In recent years, there has been an important trend to focus on modifiable risk factors for dementia that we can adjust in our own lives that may be important for living long and well. We’ve also seen how exercise interventions and lifestyle changes can modify the risk for dementia. The study looks further down at the optimal number of steps and the intensity of those steps. It’s unlikely that walking will turn out to be the only exercise that impacts the risk of dementia. With exercise and cognitive stimulation, it’s unlikely that there will be a one size fits all strategy. What’s important on an individual level is melding the science with what fits for an individual. By Manny Palomar, PhD (EV Mail April 10-16, 2023 issue)