If, despite the summer weather, you’ve either started or kept up a walking (or other exercise program) here’s more evidence that it’s a smart thing to do.
Of the two lots of research I’m about to refer to, one was carried out in Norway and the other in Canada.
The Norwegian study used long-term health records to investigate whether fitness made a difference to people’s risk of dementia. The researchers cross-checked health and fitness data with records from nursing homes and memory clinics.
While they expected to find a positive relationship, they weren’t prepared for how large it was. Maintaining or improving fitness reduced the risk of dementia by 40-50%, which is remarkable.
The Canadian team recruited 64 sedentary men and women, all aged over 60, to help identify the type of exercise that makes the most difference to thinking and memory skills.
In particular, they looked at the memory skills participants needed to remember where in the car park they left their car today compared with yesterday. That sort of recall often wanes with age, as you might have discovered.
They found that 12 weeks of interval walking made a striking difference to both the participants’ fitness and their cognitive test results.
The walking was done on a treadmill and consisted of four minutes on an incline at 90 percent of capacity, followed by three minutes of easy walking. That was done three times per session and participants completed three sessions a week.
The evidence connecting exercise, fitness and brain health is substantial, but each new study helps fill in another piece of the jigsaw.
The good news is that we can be middle-aged or older and unfit and still able to exercise in a way that protects our brains.
Just remember that you need a bit of intensity. So start adding some hills to your route or pick up the pace in parts of it.