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Walking Reduces Risk of Dementia 2004-09-22

Posted by clype in Health.

The health benefits of regular walking may include helping prevent mental decline and 'Alzheimer's disease', research in patients aged 70 and up has found, bolstering evidence that exercise needn't be strenuous to be good for you.

There's plenty of evidence that mental exercise, such as crossword puzzles and reading, may reduce 'Alzheimer's' risks, but previous studies on brain benefits from physical exercise had conflicting results.

The new findings, contained in two studies, clarify how much exercise might be beneficial and are good news for older people who want to avoid mental decline but 'don't like doing all that awful, sweaty stuff,' said Bill Thies, vice president for medical and scientific affairs of the 'Alzheimer's Association'.

'billthies.jpg This just says, "Go for a walk"' and bolsters evidence that what's good for the heart may be good for the brain, said Thies, who was not involved in the research.

'Keep eating your veggies, too' could be another mantra, according to a Dutch study, showing that Europeans ages 70 to 90 who ate a Mediterranean-style diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish and olive oil had a 23 per cent lower risk of death during a 10-year follow-up than those with less-healthy eating habits.

A 65 per cent lower mortality risk was found in those who combined the Mediterranean-style diet with three other healthy habits? moderate alcohol use, no smoking and a half hour or more per day of physical activity, including walking. The studies appear in Wednesday's "Journal of the American Medical Association".

'This study is important because it is often thought that diet, alcohol, physical activity and smoking doesn't matter anymore in old age,' said nutrition researcher Kim Knoops of The Netherlands' Wageningen University, who led the diet study.

While the studies involved older patients, they don't answer to whether adopting healthy habits late in life has the same benefits as a lifetime of healthy behavior, since participants were NOT asked how long they'd engaged in the activities.

One of the exercise studies involved 2 257 retired men in Hawaii ages 71 to 93. Those who walked less than 400 m a day were almost twice as likely to develop 'Alzheimer's' or other forms of dementia as men who walked more than 3 km daily.

Walking was 'probably representative of a lifetime behaviour' for most of the men, given Hawaii's exercise-friendly climate, said University of Virginia biostatistician Robert Abbott, the lead author. A similar study, involving 16 466 female nurses ages 70 to 81, found that even women who walked a leisurely 1.5 hours each week did better on tests of mental function than less-active women.

'We were a bit surprised that something so modest as walking would be associated with apparent cognitive benefits,' said study author Jennifer Weuve, a 'Harvard School of Public Health' researcher.

Thies offered some possible theories for how exercise might boost brain function.

He said research in mice has suggested that exercise might reduce brain levels of amyloid (a sticky protein that clogs the brain) in 'Alzheimer's' patients. Also, Thies said that studies have shown that exercise boosts levels of hormones necessary for nerve cell production, and increases blood flow to the brain.

Fit Elderly Health Article, Lindsey Tanner, Associated Press, 2004-09-22

"Walking May Ward Off Alzheimer's", Lindsey Tanner, Associated Press Medical Writer via Yahoo! News 2004-09-22

emilysenay.jpg A new study from Europe in this morning's 'Journal of the American Medical Association' shows just how powerful the effect of following healthy lifestyle advice can be over the years, reports USA TV 'The Early Show's' Dr. Emily Senay.
Researchers looked at people aged 70 to 90 for more than a decade, and found

  • those who adhered to a healthy low-fat Mediterranean-style diet lowered their risk of death by 23 per cent.
  • People who drank alcohol moderately lowered their risk by 22 per cent.
  • Physical activity lowered the risk by 37 per cent.
  • Non-smoking lowered the death risk by 22 per cent.
  • And people who had all four of these healthy lifestyle factors lowered their risk of death from any cause by 65 per cent.

It's powerful proof that a healthy lifestyle can work wonders. The Mediterranean diet comes from countries like Italy and Greece. It's high in foods that provide health benefits like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, fish and olive oil.

It also includes low amounts of meat, dairy and saturated fats, and moderate alcohol consumption. Another new study showed that the Mediterranean diet reduced metabolic syndrome, a cluster of symptoms that puts people at a much higher risk for heart disease and 'Type 2 diabetes' later in life like obesity, fat buildup in the arteries, high blood pressure, and glucose or blood sugar intolerance. People on the Mediterranean diet had significant decreases in metabolic syndrome symptoms and risk factors and improvements in good cholesterol compared to those who weren't on the diet.

There was also evidence that the healthier eaters suffered less from the inflammation of cells that may contribute to the risk of disease.

Two additional studies in the journal reinforce the importance of exercise in the health equation, even low-intensity exercise like walking.

Physical activity was associated with better mental functioning in older women. Women aged 70 and older who participated in higher levels of physical activity scored better on cognitive performance tests and showed less cognitive decline than women who were less active.

A different study showed that even walking is associated with reduced risk of 'Alzheimer's' in older men. Older men who walked the least had nearly twice the risk for diseases like 'Alzheimer's', compared to men who walked the most.

  • This is the first time that a low-intensity exercise has been proven to keep the mind sharp.


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