A study links slow walking with dementia, but what exactly does this mean?
Does slow walking damage brain cells?
The study concludes that slow walking in older adults means a higher risk of dementia, and this includes the ability to think and make sound decisions.
The study comes from the United Kingdom, and the researchers analyzed data collected from the English Longitudinal Study of Aging.
Does slow walking harm the brain?
Almost 4,000 adults over 60 were involved in the study. Those who walked more slowly had a bigger risk of getting dementia.
Another risk factor for dementia (which includes Alzheimer’s disease) was a faster decline in walking speed over a period of two years.
The full paper is in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (March 2018).
The researchers point out that slow walking speed and dementia do not work together.
But the association is clearly there. Walking slowly does not have any direct effect on brain cells.
So what’s really going on?
A lifelong avoidance of an exercise regimen is strongly correlated to future cognitive impairment.
In fact, many studies show that an exercise program — even in elderly people with cognitive impairment — has a direct effect on the brain, including increasing its size and preserving good blood flow.
For example, a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine study showed remarkable differences in the cerebral vasculature of elderly people who’d been doing aerobic exercise for the prior 10 years compared to those who had not.
It stands to reason that people who’ve been sedentary all their life will be slow walkers.
Slow walking just goes with the territory of a sedentary lifestyle and can eventually be required due to weak bones and unused muscles.
Physically fit people who work out (and thus have better brain health) are more likely to walk with a good clip whenever they’re walking — whether it’s down long corridors on the job, while walking their dog, while shopping or even around their house.
How to Pick up Your Walking Pace
One of the biggest things I noticed when I was a personal trainer was how so many people hold onto a treadmill. This includes young people.
This blunder is so prevalent that it cannot be, and should not be, explained away by “Maybe that person has a disability.”
Able-bodied people do not need to hold onto a treadmill. You’ll get a much better walking workout if you walk slowly without holding on, rather than walk briskly holding on.
Over time, increase your walking speed, while continuing to swing your arms naturally.
The best walking, however, is done outdoors on a variety of terrain.
You should also make a habit of walking faster even if the distance is minimal, such as from one department at the workplace to another, or one room in the house to another.
Get in the habit of switching from a slow walk while shopping to a perky walk, with the exception of when you’re searching for merchandise. But in between? Pick up the pace!
Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified through the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained women and men of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health.