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Walking 6 to 9 Miles a Week May Help Save Memory
Date:10/13/2010

By Alan Mozes
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Walking about six miles a week appears to protect against brain shrinkage in old age, which in turn helps stem the onset of memory problems and cognitive decline, new research reveals.

"We have always been in search of the drug or the magic pill to help treat brain disorders," noted Kirk I. Erickson, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh and the study's lead author. "But really what we are after may be, at least partially, even simpler than that. Just by walking regularly, and so maintaining a little bit of moderate physical activity, you can reduce your likelihood of developing Alzheimer's disease and [can] spare brain tissue."

A report on the research, which was supported by the U.S. National Institute on Aging, is published online Oct. 13 in Neurology.

Erickson and his colleagues began tracking the physical activity and cognitive (or thinking) patterns of nearly 300 adults in 1989. At the start, all participants were in good cognitive health, they averaged 78 years old and about two-thirds were women. The researchers charted how many blocks each person walked in a week.

Nine years later, they were given a high-resolution MRI scan to measure brain size. All were deemed to be "cognitively normal."

But four years after that, testing showed that a little more than one-third of the participants had developed mild cognitive impairment or dementia.

By correlating cognitive health, brain scans and walking patterns, the research team found that being more physically active appeared to marginally lower the risk for developing cognitive impairment.

But more specifically, they concluded that the more someone walks, the more gray matter tissue the person will have a decade or more down the road in regions of the brain -- namely the hippocampus, the inferior frontal gyrus and the supplement
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