Walking may slow cognitive decline in adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and Alzheimer's disease, as well as in healthy adults, a new study has suggested.
"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," said Cyrus Raji, from the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.
"We also found that these people had a slower decline in memory loss over five years," said Raji.
For the ongoing 20-year study, Raji and colleagues analysed the relationship between physical activity and brain structure in 426 people.
The 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. When it decreases, that means brain cells are dying. But when it remains higher, brain health is being maintained," said Raji.
In addition, patients were given the mini-mental state exam (MMSE) to track cognitive decline over five years. Physical activity levels were correlated with MRI and MMSE results. The analysis adjusted for age, gender, body fat composition, head size, education and other factors.
The findings showed across the board that greater amounts of physical activity were associated with greater brain volume.
"Alzheimer's is a devastating illness, and unfortunately, walking is not a cure. But walking can improve your brain's resistance to the disease and reduce memory loss over time," said Raji.
The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).