Regular Walking May Cut Vascular Dementia Risk More Than 70%
A NEW STUDY HAS SHOWN that regular, non-strenuous
physical activity can substantially reduce the
risk for vascular dementia, a slow, progressive thief of
memory and cognitive function similar to Alzheimer’s
disease. And while that news is exciting, it’s not something
to work up a sweat over—literally. The researchers
found that easy-to-perform, moderate activities—such as
walking, stair climbing and gardening—provided as much
brain benefit as more rigorous, physically demanding activities.
Researchers at University Hospital S. Orsola Malpighi in
Bologna, Italy, analyzed data from the Conselice Study of
Brain Aging, a population-based study involving 749 men
and women, ages 65 and older. Conselice is a small, rural
town in the Emilia Romagna region in northern Italy. The
subjects were given an extensive cognitive assessment and
were found to be free of any form of dementia when the
study began. All but 23% of the subjects reported walking
for exercise as part of their daily routine. Other moderate intensity
activities included house and yard work, gardening,
light carpentry and bicycling.
Four years later, the subjects underwent follow-up testing
for dementia. At that point 86 cases of dementia were discovered,
including 27 cases of vascular dementia, with brain
infarction—tissue death due to lack of oxygen-rich blood—
confirmed by neuroimaging.
Those who engaged the most regularly in moderate activity
fared the best when it came to retaining cognitive function.
Regular walking was associated with a 73% risk reduction
for vascular dementia. Other moderate activities lowered risk
by 71% when comparing those who exercised most with
those who engaged in moderate-intensity activities the least.
Publishing their findings in the journal Neurology,
Giovanni Ravaglia, MD, and colleagues wrote that while
their study did not prove a causal link, it was the first
research to show a positive association between regular moderate
activity and reduction in risk for vascular dementia.
Their findings bolster other studies that have shown better
cognitive performance in more active, older adults.
Vascular dementia is the second most common form of
dementia after Alzheimer’s disease. The condition is not a
single disease but, rather, relates to various effects from
chronic reduced blood flow in the brain, eventually resulting
in dementia. A common downside of aging is the progressive
change in blood vessels (vasculature). Cholesterol and other
substances often accumulate in the blood-vessel walls, resulting
in thickening and hardening and, thus, restricting blood
flow to regions of the brain.
When this occurs suddenly, the result is a stroke, but vascular
brain damage may also subtly develop over time, from
chronic lack of oxygen. Vascular dementia is characterized
by a slow but progressive worsening of memory and other
The Italian researchers suggested that exercise’s cognitive
benefits could be multifaceted. Improved cerebral blood flow
and the reduction in cortisol and other “brain-toxic” stress
hormones have protective benefits. Exercise may also be a
marker for a healthy lifestyle or even protect the brain, they
suggested, simply through the mental and social stimulation
of an active lifestyle.
TO LEARN MORE: Neurology, online ahead of print; abstract at