Walking may delay Alzheimer's decline

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A new study finds that walking five miles per week can stall the decline of cognitive function among seniors who are already experiencing mild forms of dementia.

This level of activity can even help ward off symptoms of cognitive decline in otherwise healthy people, according to research presented at the recent annual meeting of Radiological Society of North America.

To evaluate how exercise affects the progression of Alzheimer's, investigators studied data from an ongoing 20-year study that measured walking patterns of 426 adults.

“We found that walking five miles per week protects the brain structure over 10 years in people with Alzheimer's and MCI [mild cognitive impairment], especially in areas of the brain's key memory and learning centers,” said the study's lead author, Cyrus Raji. “We also found that these people had a slower decline in memory loss over five years.”

Because this study is observational, experts point out that people who are in the early stages of dementia will probably become less active. But they are quick to note that regular physical activity has a protective effect against developing brain diseases during midlife and later in life.