From Featuring Dr Chris Steele MBE

Walking may slow progression of Alzheimer's

Beneficial to both the healthy and those with mild mental decline

Walking at least five miles per week can protect the brain against mental decline, according to a new report.

The effect was seen across the board, in people with Alzheimer's, those with mild cognitive decline (MCI) and healthy adults.

As study author Cyrus Raji of the University of Pittsburgh explains: "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 centres. We also found that these people had a slower decline in memory loss over five years."

These results are important because as yet there is no cure for Alzheimer's, and treatment is focussed on trying to slow the progress of the disease.

Walking actually affects the structure of the brain said Dr Raji - the study looked at people over a 10 year period after which they 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."

The findings showed across the board that 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. The healthy adults needed to walk at least six miles per week to maintain brain volume and significantly reduce their risk of cognitive decline.

Over five years, mental ability 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.

The results of the study were presented at the 2010 annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.

This article was published on Mon 29 November 2010