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Why a Slow Walking Pace Could Be a Sign of Dementia — and How to Protect Your Brain Health

Put a little pep in your step.


We’re loving the slight chilliness in the air, and an afternoon stroll is a great way to embrace the fall weather, as well one of the best exercises for your health. But as you’re walking, try and be mindful of your speed — a fast pace can help boost your cognitive health. Or if you notice a loved one walking slower than usual, it might be a sign of a greater health condition. Research finds that walking at a slower pace is linked to a higher risk of dementia.

A study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society looked at the relationship between walking speed, cognitive function, and dementia risk. Researchers gathered 3,932 participants (60 and older) to measure the time it took them to walk a distance of eight feet at their usual pace. They completed this exercise between 2002 to 2003 and repeated it in 2004 to 2005 so that researchers could calculate the changing scores in walking speed and cognition.

The study’s authors found that those who had faster walking speeds during the first exercise period were less likely to develop dementia during the two year follow-up period. Researchers also recognized that better cognitive function at the beginning of the study had decreased chances of dementia as well. Those who had a greater cognitive decline from the first exercise to the second had an increased risk of dementia

Researchers believed that these results demonstrated the connection between walking and cognition since they both rely on similar brain regions mostly in the prefrontal cortex. “Although this process is largely automatic, walking relies on sensory feedback and high-order cognitive control,” the study’s authors wrote.

Essentially, because walking speed can be affected by your brain’s function, walking at a slower pace than normal could be a sign of cognitive decline, which might lead to dementia. On the other hand, if you start walking at a faster speed now you could help ward off any signs of dementia over time.

Picking up your pace has also been shown to boost longevity. Interval walking is another effective exercise that involves walking at a normal pace for three minutes then increasing your speed for 15 to 30 seconds followed by two to three minutes of gentle walking. Repeat those short 15 to 30 second bursts before walking normally for three minutes.

This interval walking exercise should total about 10 minutes and help maximize the results of a longer and fast-paced walk in a small amount of time (a win-win!). Also, carefully stepping backward three feet or imagining you’re doing it can sharpen your memory and give you a quick energy boost so that you can walk faster.

Doing these three tricks regularly should put some pep in our step and make any afternoon or evening stroll even more rewarding!

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