Get Off Your Couch, Walking Maintains Brain Volume

All ye couch potatoes nibbling on Paneer Tikka Masala and digging into Chicken 65, get off your couches NOW.

And start walking if you want to keep your brains working well.

Walking Slows Cognitive Decline
A new study presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America in Chicago says walking could slow cognitive decline in adults with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as in healthy adults.

“We found that walking five miles per week protects the brain structure over 10 years in people with Alzheimer’s and MCI, especially in areas of the brain’s key memory and learning centers,” said Cyrus Raji, Ph.D., from the Department of Radiology at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. “We also found that these people had a slower decline in memory loss over five years.”

As even you schmucks know, Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible, progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and cognitive skills.

Between 2.4 million and 5.1 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, according to the National Institute on Aging. Researchers predict the Alzheimers’ population in the U.S. to increase significantly over the next decade.

In cases of mild cognitive impairment, a person has cognitive or memory problems exceeding typical age-related memory loss, but not yet as severe as those found in Alzheimer’s disease. About 50% of the people with MCI eventually progress to Alzheimer’s disease.

“Because a cure for Alzheimer’s is not yet a reality, we hope to find ways of alleviating disease progression or symptoms in people who are already cognitively impaired,” Dr. Raji said.

Raji and his colleagues analyzed the relationship between physical activity and brain structure in 426 people, including 299 healthy adults (mean age 78), and 127 cognitively impaired adults (mean age 81), including 83 adults with MCI and 44 adults with Alzheimer’s dementia.

Researchers monitored how far each of the patients walked in a week. After 10 years, all patients underwent 3-D MRI exams to identify changes in brain volume.

“Volume is a vital sign for the brain,” Dr. Raji said. “When it decreases, that means brain cells are dying. But when it remains higher, brain health is being maintained.”

Important Findings
Greater amounts of physical activity were associated with greater brain volume.

Cognitively impaired people needed to walk at least five miles per week to maintain brain volume and slow cognitive decline. Healthy adults needed to walk at least six miles per week to maintain brain volume and significantly reduce their risk for cognitive decline.

Over five years, mini-mental state exam scores decreased by an average of five points in cognitively impaired patients who did not engage in a sufficient level of physical activity, compared with a decrease of only one point in patients who met the physical activity requirement.

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