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Two separate studies released this week show that walking on a daily basis boosts both mental and physical well-being. As we age, walking prevents dementia, improves mental agility and slows the onset of degenerative mental diseases like Alzheimer’s. It also keeps the joints mobile and improves co-ordination.
A team of scientists in the US studied subjects with an average age of 80. Those who were the most mobile and who walked daily showed a much slower level of decrease in proprioception and general agility – these benefits were also present even with the onset of degenerative brain diseases that would usually effect the ability to walk.
The results show that a more active lifestyle for those over 60 can be a huge help in maintaining mobility and mental agility. It can also prevent the onset of dementia.
“Physical activity may create a ‘reserve’ that protects motor abilities against the effects of age-related brain damage” said Dr Debra Fleischman, author of the report and part of the team at Rush University Medical Centre in Chicago.
Dr Laura Phipps of Alzheimer’s Research UK commented “This study showed that older people who engage in daily activity equivalent to walking for an hour and a half are less likely to develop movement problems related to small areas of blood vessel damage in the brain.”
The results in the US also confirm the findings of another study published in the journal The Lancet that shows the benefits of a three-pronged approach – regular walks, healthy eating and keeping the brain active. The research, conducted by Scandinavian scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm showed that those who did all three things performed up to 2 ½ times better in cognitive tests that counterparts who did not eat as well, did no mental agility exercises (like online puzzles) and did not walk on a daily basis.
Although other studies have shown links between healthy eating, exercise, mental exercises and cognitive decline, this is the first large random trial to show that a targeted program including these three risk factors might be able to halt or at least slow cognitive decline in older subjects.