Critter Corner: How Many Steps Should You Walk to Reduce Your Risk of Dementia?

Dear Angel,

I heard many times that exercise helps reduce your risk of dementia. I recently began walking while listening to books on Audible. How long do they say you should walk, and how many times per week, to reduce your risk of mental decline? Thanks for your help!

Miles Walker

Dear Miles,

Participation in physical activities, such as walking, running, cycling, using exercise machines, yoga, and dancing, is associated with a reduction in risk of dementia, according to a recent study published August 10, 2022, in the medical journal Neurology.

Staying active mentally, physically, and socially appears to have a benefit to the brain, according to Emily Rogalski, Ph.D., associate director of the Mesulam Center for Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease at Northwestern University. “But not all activities are equally beneficial,” she added.

Brisk walking is best to reduce dementia risk

Research has shown that those who walk regularly (three to five times per week for 30 to 40 minutes) had a significantly lower risk of dementia than those who didn’t partake in aerobic exercise. This could be because walking helps improve blood flow, which can help improve cognition. Walking is an easy way to add more aerobic exercise to your day, which can help strengthen your body and mind.

A recent CNN article highlights an even more recent study with more specific findings. Published September 6, 2022, in the medical journal JAMA Neurology, this study concludes that adults should ideally get between 3,800 and 9,800 steps each day to reduce the risk of mental decline. The study analyzed data from over 78,000 adults in the United Kingdom between the ages of 40 and 79 who wore wrist accelerometers. Researchers counted each person’s total number of steps per day and then placed them into two categories: Fewer than 40 steps per minute (walking from room to room) and more than 40 steps per minute (purposeful walking). The researchers also analyzed those who took the most steps within 30 minutes over the course of a day. Researchers then compared that person’s steps against their diagnosis of dementia of any type seven years later.

These are some of the findings from the JAMA study:

  • People between the ages of 40 and 79 who took 9,826 steps per day were 50 percent less likely to develop dementia within seven years.
  • People who walked with “purpose” — at a pace over 40 steps a minute — were able to cut their risk of dementia by 57 percent with just 6,315 steps a day.
  • People who walked approximately 3,800 steps a day at any speed cut their risk of dementia by 25 percent, the study found.
  • The largest reduction in dementia risk — 62 percent — was achieved by people who walked at a very brisk pace of 112 steps per minute for 30 minutes a day, the study found.

According to study coauthor Borja del Pozo Cruz, an adjunct associate professor at the University of Southern Denmark, “(d)ementia is preventable to a great extent. Physical activity as well as other lifestyle behaviors such as lack of alcohol and smoking, maintaining a healthy diet and weight and sleep can put you on the right track to avoid dementia.”

Hope this is helpful. Keep on walking and enjoy your audiobooks!


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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.

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