Last year I received an Apple watch for my birthday. In all honesty, I wasn’t sure if I would wear it that much. I really don’t like wearing jewelry, including watches. But I started to learn about all the things it could do – besides telling time! On the face of my watch there is the date, the temperature, the number of hours of daylight left in the day, of course the time, but there is also an activity tracker. It includes Move – how many active calories you are using- with a threshold of 480 calories for the day; Exercise – how much time you are actively exercising (like an outdoor walk) with a 30-minute goal; and Stand – how much time you stand during the day with a 12-hour goal.
I had been tracking my steps for a couple of years with my phone. But usually, I forgot to bring my phone everywhere I went, so my step counts were never accurate. This new watch promised that I would know exactly how much I was walking, standing, or moving during the day. I was hooked. It was a daily competition to see if I could close all three rings, as well as drive up my step count per day. Not only did it count the intentional steps I was walking, but it kept track of the everyday steps I took. The step counts took me by surprise. I had no idea that the total number of steps in my day was so high! Most days took me close to the 10,000-step total and if I was lower, I put in the extra effort to drive those steps up before the day was out. It was crushing when I didn’t close all my circles and it was then I realized that perhaps I had taken this a little too far! It was evident though, that my overall health was benefitting from this exercise. Let’s dig a little deeper and find out why I was benefitting so much from simply walking.
What’s the ‘skinny’ on physical exercise and brain health? As we age, we lose brain cells and connections. The volume of our brain decreases. It was previously believed that this result of aging was inevitable. When it was discovered that our brain could change (neuroplasticity) and grow new cells (neurogenesis) the whole ballgame changed. Technological advances allowed researchers to observe what was occurring in the brain as it happened.
And, as it turns out, physical exercise has blown the socks off researchers as they determined what was going on! The effect of exercise has impacts on the brain on multiple fronts. Aerobic exercise increases heart rate pumping a greater volume of blood to your brain. This is critical to brain health because the brain uses 20% of blood, oxygen, and carbohydrates from EVERY heartbeat. The brain is an energy cannibal and requires blood, oxygen, and carbs to function at a high level. Exercise also prevents age-related shrinkage of your brain, preserving both gray and white matter in your frontal, temporal, and parietal cortexes, thereby preventing cognitive deterioration. (mercola.com) Similar findings from other studies found that those who engaged in the most physical exercise showed the least amount of shrinkage over a follow-up period of three years. (mercola.com)
This information has been available for quite a few years. But the research has continued because we still have little meaningful treatments for dementia, including Alzheimer’s. Dr. David Perlmutter published a blog on September 19, 2022, with the headline: “New Medication Associated with a 50% Risk Reduction for Dementia!” Well, that certainly caught my eye! As he writes, “the recent discovery of a new medication has been shown to be associated with dementia risk reduction by as much as one half is incredibly exciting. If this medication becomes widely used, it will have global implications.”
In this research scientists followed close to 80,000 adults for 7 years. The dosage of the medication varied with each participant. The results were dramatic. Those in the highest dose ranges experienced a profound risk reduction in terms of developing dementia, by as much as 50%. The title of the study is: Association of Daily Step Count and Intensity with Incident Dementia in 78430 Adults Living in the UK. Wow – the medication was walking!! That is such a clever way of discussing the value of this study because unfortunately, many people only put their faith in medication solutions. And, at this point, no medication solutions exist for treatment of dementia.
The study determined that the best outcome was seen around 10,000 steps per day. This level was associated with a 51% risk reduction. The authors also stated that they found no minimal threshold for the beneficial association of step counts with incident dementia. These step counts covered total walking, meaning that all the walking a person does during the day while exercising or not – is included in the step count. Those step numbers don’t seem so daunting when all walking is included.
This is such a huge breakthrough in dementia research. The message sent out loud and clear is: First, get moving, and any level will help. And second, the more the better.
Perlmutter, D. (September 19, 2022). New medication associated with a 50% risk reduction for dementia! Retrieved from https://www.drperlmutter.com/new-medication-50-percent-risk-reduction-for-dementia/