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Experts say both walking distance and speed can contribute to lowering the risk of dementia. Stewart Cohen/Getty Images
  • Researchers say walking quickly as well as walking far can help lower the risk of dementia.
  • In their study, the researchers listed the risk reduction of walking between 4,000 and 10,000 steps per day as well as the benefits of walking up to 112 steps per minute.
  • This research is the latest in a series of studies this year that promote exercise as a way to boost brain health.
  • Experts say you can also lower your risk of dementia by eating healthy, stimulating your brain, and socializing.

Many people aim to walk 10,000 steps per day for optimum health.

However, a new study reports that between 3,800 and 9,800 steps each day can also reduce the risk of mental decline, especially if you walk quickly.

The study, published in JAMA Neurology, analyzed data from more than 78,000 people between the ages of 40 and 79 who wore accelerometers.

Researchers divided the participants into two categories: those who took fewer than 40 steps per minute and those who took 40 or more steps per minute.

The researchers also analyzed peak performers – those who took the most steps within 30 minutes. The 30 minutes did not need to occur simultaneously.

The scientists followed up with the participants 7 years later, noting any diagnoses of dementia. They then compared steps with the diagnosis, factoring in age, ethnicity, education, sex, socio-emotional status, how many days the participant wore the accelerometer, diet, smoking, alcohol use, medication use, sleep issues, and any history of cardiovascular disease.

Some of the findings included:

  • People who took 9,826 steps per day were 50 percent less likely to develop dementia within seven years.
  • People who walked more than 40 steps per minute cut their dementia risk by 57 percent while walking only 6,315 steps per day.
  • People who walked 3,800 steps per day at any speed cut their risk of dementia within seven years by 25 percent.
  • People who walked at the brisk pace of 112 steps per minute for 30 minutes per day reduced their risk of dementia by 62 percent.

An editorial that accompanied the study results suggested that people focus on their walking pace rather than the distance walked or the number of steps per day, aiming for 112 steps per minute.

To find your steps per minute, count the number of steps in 10 seconds and then multiply by 6 to find your steps/per minute.

The researchers point out that even walking 3,800 steps daily reduces the risk of dementia. This amount is doable for primarily sedentary people.

“When it comes to healthy aging, exercise is about the closest thing we have to a miracle drug,” said Dr. Scott Kaiser, a geriatrician and the director of Geriatric Cognitive Health for the Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in California.

“The key is to get moving and stay moving,” Kaiser told Healthline. “Having clear goals, an action plan, and developing a routine, including activities you enjoy and that make you feel good, can go a long way toward creating and sustaining lasting change.”

Several studies in the past year have concluded that regular physical activity can lower the risk of developing dementia.

A study published in January reported that exercise can slow the progression of dementia in people whose brains have signs of plaques, tangles, and other hallmarks of dementia. The researchers said they believe that exercise boost levels of proteins that strengthen communication between brain cells, which might help keep dementia at bay.

A study published in August found that completing household chores lowered the risk of dementia by 21 percent. In addition, daily visits with family and friends reduced the risk by 15 percent compared to people who did not engage in these activities.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” said Kaiser.” When it comes to dementia, experts suggest that somewhere around one-third of cases might be prevented by addressing modifiable risk factors. Considering the predictions of the rising number of people who will be impacted – worldwide dementia cases to triple by 2050 to over 150 million people — we need to start thinking now, and on a massive scale, about the best possible strategies and approaches to prevent dementia.”

Many doctors agree that exercise can reduce the risk of developing dementia.

“Many studies have shown that more exercise is associated with a lower risk of dementia,” Dr. Douglas Scharre, the director of the division of Cognitive Neurology in the Department of Neurology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, told Healthline.

Scharre also suggests:

  • Socializing
  • Stimulating your brain
  • Not smoking
  • Controlling hypertension, diabetes, and hyperlipidemia
  • Eating a healthy diet, for example, the Mediterranean diet
  • Keep learning