Dementia impacts close to half a million Australians, with this number set to double within the next 25 years. Around a third of all dementia cases across the world are attributed to modifiable risk factors such as physical inactivity, smoking and hypertension (high blood pressure), leading to a renewed focus on dementia prevention strategies across one’s lifespan. Whilst there are many factors that contribute to dementia, a recent study in the UK has highlighted how our daily step count through walking, is one factor that can reduce the risk of being diagnosed with dementia. The best thing about walking is that it is an all-round exercise that is FREE to do.
The optimal range of steps per day is estimated at 9,800 steps, coming in under the popular target of 10,000 steps per day. By taking 3826 steps per day as your minimal step count, you will see a 50% reduction in your risk of developing dementia. Step intensity is also an important factor when considering this method for lowering dementia risk factors, it is recommended to take 112 steps per minute, for a duration of 30minutes per day.
Step-based activities for dementia reduction are at an advantage as they are easy to measure and interpret while also being relevant to many individuals in the wider community, as most individuals have wrist worn accelerometers in the form of a smart watch. They are also easy to communicate to the patients and allow for unstructured or incidental physical activity. Regular aerobic exercise such as walking not only reduces your risk of developing dementia, but it also leads to improvements in memory, attention and cognitive performance.
Exercise and other physical activity are important for brain health, therefore increasing physical activity is a promising and fairly simple intervention to delay a decline in cognitive function. Exercise also has additional health benefits of improved balance, reduced falls and falls risk, improved cardiovascular health and reduced mortality rates. In addition exercise has huge benefits on brain function, it can improve executive function, which is how we process new information. Exercise also helps to preserve the size of the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that stores new and old memories.
Taking more steps per day is associated with a lower risk of developing dementia. An average of 9,800 steps per day is the recommended optimal target required to reduce dementia risk factors. Although if you can only manage 4000 steps a day, that’s a 25% reduction in dementia risks. A brisk walk a day keeps dementia away!