Hitting that step goal on your smartwatch could have benefits beyond bragging rights or a good calorie burn. A new study finds that older adults who got in just under 10,000 steps a day — 9,800, to be exact — were 50 percent less likely to develop dementia. Even those who racked up 3,800 daily steps saw a 25 percent reduction in risk.
The findings, published in JAMA Neurology, add to a growing body of evidence that physical activity is just as important for the brain as it is for the body, and that more accessible exercises, such as walking, may be able to get the job done.
“I think this reinforces recommendations that we can make to people that walking, in and of itself — and brisk walking, preferably — is likely to be beneficial,” says Ron Petersen, M.D., director of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging, who was not involved in this latest research.
For the observational study, a team of researchers from the University of Sydney in Australia and the University of Southern Denmark monitored the daily step count of 78,430 adults ages 40 to 79 who were enrolled in the UK Biobank study and who wore an accelerometer on their wrist to measure their physical activity.
After a seven-year follow-up period, the researchers discovered that a higher number of steps per day was associated with a lower risk of dementia. They also discovered that speed matters. In fact, walking at a faster pace resulted in benefits “above and beyond” the number of steps achieved, the study authors noted in a news release.
“It'd be great if we can all get close to 10,000 steps, but that’s a quite a lot,” says Makoto Ishii, M.D., a neurologist at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York, New York. According to the Mayo Clinic, most Americans take between 3,000 and 4,000 steps a day. “But maybe if we can increase the rate and make it this very purposeful kind of power walking for shorter time periods even, that might be even more beneficial,” Ishii adds.
In fact, short bursts of moderate to intense activity — just six or seven minutes a day — can benefit memory and mental processes like planning and organizing, a study in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health suggests.