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Study: Walk between 3,800 and 9,800 each day to reduce your risk of mental decline

September 7, 2022

People between the ages of 40 and 79 who took 9,826 steps per day were 50% less likely to develop dementia within seven years, the study found. Furthermore, people who walked with “purpose” — at a pace over 40 steps a minute — were able to cut their risk of dementia by 57% with just 6,315 steps a day.

The study used 78,000 people.

“It is a brisk walking activity, like a power walk,” said study coauthor Borja del Pozo Cruz, 

an adjunct associate professor at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense, Denmark, and senior researcher in health sciences for the University of Cadiz in Spain.

Even people who walked approximately 3,800 steps a day at any speed cut their risk of dementia by 25%, the study found.

“That would be enough, at first, for sedentary individuals,” said del Pozo Cruz in an email.

“In fact, it is a message that doctors could use to motivate very sedentary older adults — 4k steps is very doable by many, even those that are less fit or do not feel very motivated,” he added. “Perhaps, more active and fitter individuals should aim for 10k, where we see maximum effects.”

The largest reduction in dementia risk — 62% — was achieved by people who walked at a very brisk pace of 112 steps per minute for 30 minutes a day, the study found. Prior research has labeled 100 steps a minute (2.7 miles per hour) as a “brisk” or moderate level of intensity.

“While 112 steps/min is a rather brisk cadence, ‘112’ is conceivably a much more tractable and less intimidating number for most individuals than ‘10,000,’ especially if they have been physically inactive or underactive,” wrote Alzheimer’s researchers Ozioma Okonkwo and Elizabeth Planalp in the editorial. 

“We do agree this is a very interesting finding,” said del Pozo Cruz via email. “Our take is that intensity of stepping matters!”

Don’t have a step counter? You can count the number of steps you take in 10 seconds and then multiply it by six — or the number of steps you take in six seconds and multiply it by 10. Either way works. But remember, not everyone’s steps are the same length, nor are their fitness levels. What might be a brisk pace for a 40-year-old may not be sustainable for a 70-year-old.

Editor’s Note: Before beginning any new exercise program, consult your doctor. Stop immediately if you experience pain.