MONDAY, Nov. 29 (HealthDay News) -- New research suggests that walking about five miles a week may help slow the progression of cognitive illness among seniors already suffering from mild forms of cognitive impairment or Alzheimer's disease.
In fact, even healthy people who do not as yet show any signs of cognitive decline may help stave off brain illness by engaging in a similar level of physical activity, the study team noted.
An estimated 2.4 million to 5.1 million people in the United States are estimated to have Alzheimer's disease, which causes a devastating, irreversible decline in memory and reasoning, according to National Institute on Aging.
The researchers were slated to present the findings Monday in Chicago at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).
"Because a cure for Alzheimer's is not yet a reality, we hope to find ways of alleviating disease progression or symptoms in people who are already cognitively impaired," lead author Cyrus Raji, of the department of radiology at the University of Pittsburgh, said in a RSNA news release.
"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 centers," he said. "We also found that these people had a slower decline in memory loss over five years."
To assess the impact that physical exercise might have on Alzheimer's progression (as well as that of less severe brain illnesses), the researchers analyzed data from an ongoing 20-year study that gauged weekly walking patterns among 426 adults.
Among the participants, 127 were diagnosed as cognitively impaired -- 83 with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and 44 with Alzheimer's. About half of all cases of MCI eventually progress to Alzheimer's. The rest were deemed cognitively healthy, with an overall a
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