Walking 8,900 steps a day could protect the brain against decline and brain tissue loss from Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study.
Researchers tracked the movement of elderly people and measured the levels of a protein linked to Alzheimer’s to work out the link.
And they added exercise should be used alongside other heart health interventions such as lowering cholesterol, quitting smoking and losing weight.
Improving blood flow has been linked to protecting the brain in the past and people with dementia are often found to have reduced flow to the brain, potentially starving it of vital oxygen and nutrients and hastening its decline.
Researchers from the Centre for Alzheimer’s Research and Treatment did a study on 182 patients at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
These patients had an average age of 73 and scientists measured how much they walked each day using pedometers.
They also tracked amounts of a protein called b-amyloid in their brains and the constitution of vital grey matter.
Those who walked further had a slower reduction in their brain capacity, the research found.
Dr Reisa Sperling said: ‘Beneficial effects were seen at even modest levels of physical activity, but were most prominent at around 8,900 steps, which is only slightly less than the 10,000 many of us strive to achieve daily.’
From their research, Dr Sperling and her team said hitting this 9,000 steps-per-day target could stave off the onset of Alzheimer’s disease in older people.
And they found the exercise still had a beneficial effect even when the results were adjusted to take people’s heart condition and general health into account.
They added lower risk of heart problems was independently associated with slower cognitive decline and grey matter volume loss.
Jasmeer Chhatwal, of the MGH Department of Neurology, and corresponding author of the study, said: ‘One of the most striking findings from our study was that greater physical activity not only appeared to have positive effects on slowing cognitive decline, but also on slowing the rate of brain tissue loss over time in normal people who had high levels of amyloid plaque in the brain.’
The research was published in the journal JAMA Neurology.