Increase Your Steps to Decrease Dementia Risk   

Increase Your Steps to Decrease Dementia Risk

Elderly couple walking in the park. Walking decreases risk for dementia
Clinical Contributors to this story:
Jasdeep S. Hundal, Psy.D

While it’s commonly known that physical activity is good for your heart and maintaining a healthy weight, did you know that it may also lower your dementia risk?

Analyzing the activity habits of more than 78,000 adults, researchers found that getting 9,800 steps daily decreased the risk of dementia. The study also found that step intensity and walking pace matter: Walking purposefully (at least 40 steps per minute) was associated with lowered dementia risk.

“Physical activity has an important impact on brain health,” says neuropsychologist, Jasdeep S. Hundal, Psy.D, ABPP-CN. “Being active doesn’t just benefit your body, it can improve your brain health and mood.”

The More Steps, The Better

It’s a common fitness goal to aim for 10,000 daily steps, but most Americans only get half as many steps, between 4,000 and 5,000.

Another study compared those who took 4,000 steps a day, to those who took 8,000 to 12,000 steps. Following up with participants 10 years later, the study found that:

  • Those who took 8,000 steps during the study had a 50% lower risk of dying, from any cause
  • Those who took 12,000 steps had a 65% lower risk of dying

Now, researchers have shown that approaching 10,000 steps (9,800) also has brain-health benefits.

How does walking help lower your risk of dementia?

Accumulating a high step count may benefit your brain. Why? Exercise helps to protect your ability to remember things and think clearly.

Getting a high daily step count may help to:

  • Improve blood flow to the brain, which benefits memory and cognition.
  • Lower the impact of stress on the hippocampus, a brain region associated with storing new memories.
  • Encourage the brain to enhance internal connections that allow you to retain memories.
  • Reduce chronic inflammation, which is associated with dementia.

“There’s no downside to walking more to boost your step count,” Dr. Hundal says. “You may improve your brain health, heart health, overall health and your mood.”

Other Benefits of Upping Your Step Game

Walking more may benefit your health in many ways. A higher step count may help to lower your risk of:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Certain forms of cancer
  • Depression

Additionally, higher step counts may be associated with:

  • Better overall physical health
  • Improved balance and flexibility
  • Stronger bones and muscles
  • Increased strength and endurance
  • Improved weight control
  • Better sleep quality

How to Get More Steps

Are you eager to increase your step count? Try these ideas:

  • Track your movement with a wearable activity tracker or smartphone pedometer app. Seeing how much you move may motivate you to increase your daily number.
  • Don’t expect to boost your number overnight if it’s low. Make small changes to your routine, increasing by 500 or 1,000 steps weekly.
  • Find small ways to be more active. Choose a far-away parking spot, and take the stairs.
  • Swap sedentary habits for active ones. Walk with friends instead of sitting; watch TV from a treadmill, not the couch.
  • Go for a walk at a set time, such as after dinner. Make the activity part of your regular routine.
  • Schedule short walks into your day like meetings, and honor the appointments. 
  • If you have a dog, take a longer walk together once a day.
  • Listen to music or a podcast that you love while you walk. It may inspire you to go farther, so you can keep listening.
  • Buddy up with a friend or partner to make walking a social occasion. You may go more consistently if you have a regular walking date.

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.



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