A recent article on CNN.com reports on a new large study appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Association that shows a connection between slower walking speeds (or gait) and development of dementia. The research seems to show that a decrease in the speed at which older adults walk year to year may be an early indicator of cognitive decline and dementia. The study looked at the pace of walking as well as the ability of participants to answer certain cognitive/memory questions, then drew conclusions about their relationship.
Although it was a large study (17,000 subjects), more research should follow. As I read the article, I wondered about a chicken and egg question. Did walking speed decrease because of lower cognition, or did cognition somehow decrease because of slower walking? If the second is the case, then it would make sense that we should regularly monitor people to see if they are literally slowing down; if so, they should be put on a program to increase the velocity of their gait. The research does show that when both factors (slower walking and cognitive decline) are present, there is a much greater chance of dementia–as opposed to mild cognitive impairment, which is a “normal” part of the aging process.
The study seems to indicate that the connection may exist in the right hippocampus–the area of the brain associated with memory. Believe it or not, the size of the right hippocampus can actually be increased with regular aerobic exercise (the kind that elevates heart and breating rates). It is not as if we simply have to accept the fact that once we slow down we are on a slippery slope to dementia; keeping up the pace of our exercise can have a positive impact. Even stretching exercises were shown to make a difference.
More research will surely be forthcoming. This study will certainly become an important tool in assessing the risks of dementia. It also provides another reason why it is so important for older adults to remain active and engage in regular exercise. It is not just about our physical health, but about our mental well-being too!
The most recent issue of IDEA’s Fitness Journal has an article that sheds light on the benefits of walking fast. I have blogged in the past about the benefits of walking, and doing so at a pace that elevates the heart rate. This article reports on the findings of a recent study out of England published in Clinical Rehabilitation on a totally different aspect. It shows that people who are trained to walk at a fast pace after a stroke are more able to multi-task.
The theory is that those who walk more slowly put more thought into each and every step; this limits their ability to focus on other things while they are walking. On the other hand, those who walk more quickly get into a kind of rhythm or cycle that becomes almost automatic; this frees up their brains to be able to concentrate on other things at the same time. The research is important because our brains are called upon to multi-task all the time; safely walking requires our brains to chart a course, avoid obstacles, stay balanced, etc. Of course, if you want to walk and chew gum at the same time that is a whole other matter!
This article reminded me of an interview on NPR I heard with the author of Choke: What The Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To, Sian Beilock. Beilock did research into why athletes (and others) “choke;” for example, if a golfer is two below par and simply has to sink a 2-foot putt, why is it that sometimes they “choke” and keep missing the hole? The ability not to choke has to do with having practiced something so much that it becomes automatic–the putt can be done without thinking. Once overthinking begins is when problems start. (Of course, I am oversimplifying the interview, but you get the point).
With older adults and those who have experienced stroke, physical changes may result in having to relearn walking or learn to walk in a different way. What was once automatic now requires thought, which can lead to a choke–in this case, a fall. The research out of England makes perfect sense; teaching stroke survivors to walk quickly and automatically will lead to safer walking in the long run.
As a personal trainer working with older adults, this study has important ramifications. I do work with clients who have a history of stroke. The more they are trained to do tasks automatically, the more likely they will be to successfully multi-task and return to greater independence.
Most of us have probably heard the guideline that we should be taking at least 10,000 steps a day to help maintain health and fitness. Where does that number come from? According to a recent article on http://www.nbcnews.com, it was a number picked by a Japanese company in the 1960s seeking to sell pedometers.
The article discusses the results of study published this month in Jama Network Open, a publication of the American Medical Association. The research indicates that the number may more realistically be around 7,000 steps to get the same health benefits; namely, people who achieved that goal (7,000) were 50-70% less likely to die in the next 10 years! Of course, 10,000 does not have a negative effect. The smaller number, however, may seem less daunting to some people; on the other hand, maybe it is a better idea to have people aim for 10,000 and only hit 7,000.
The most recent guidelines are that we should exercise (or be physically active) for a minimum of 150 minutes per week; the range goes up to 300 minutes per week, and can be a combination of different kinds of exercise and levels of intensity. Someone who is running 8-10 minute miles can get by with the lower number (150) as opposed to someone who is walking at a pace of a 20 minute mile (perhaps 300 is better). Of course, there are many factors that at play here; this new research adds to our understanding of how much walking can figure into these numbers. Previously, there were not any solid studies; this new research suggests 7-13 thousand steps/day is the optimal range.
For those who fret about hitting their step goal each day, this may be some welcome news. As always, consult with medical and fitness professionals to find what is best for you.
In the meantime, remember, a journey of a thousand miles begins with 7,000 steps!
One of the top activities for many people during this pandemic has been going for a walk. It gets us out of the house; being out in the open air is good for us and carries a low risk for transmission of COVID-19. Many people, however, want to know if walking really “counts” as exercise, or whether is is “good enough” to provide health benefits.
It is worth read; the author and the individuals quoted bring forth useful information. There is even a little summary at the beginning of the article. First, if you are tracking exercise using a device or other means, walking definitely counts; it can be any kind of walking (around the block or to the fridge!), as those who aim for 10,000 steps a day know. Second, walking can boost immune function and reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. Third, keeping active in bursts during the day can have benefit; those of us who are stuck at home most of the day (working or otherwise) can break things up with a quick walk outside or around the home. Finally, the article encourages us to do what we enjoy; if a person doesn’t like the stationary bike but likes walking, it makes sense to choose walking that one actually has a shot at doing on a regular basis.
The article goes into greater depth and discusses as well what walking can and cannot accomplish. I always tell folks that moving is definitely better than not moving. That being said, moving that involves a little more intensity is usually better than activities that do not. Walking at a slow pace and making frequent stops (like taking a dog for a walk) is better than sitting on the couch, but walking without the pet (alone or with a friend/family member) at a more brisk pace is even better. There is also the option of a kind of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) that I have done with many clients; walking for 2 minutes at a regular pace, then 20 seconds fast, and repeating the cycle is an example of this.
Most importantly, the article stresses, find what you like and enjoy. Intense exercise that we never do is not as helpful to our health as a moderate exercise that we carry out on a regular basis.