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Wednesday, 9 May, 2001, 23:37 GMT 00:37 UK
Walking 'slows mental decline'
Exercise is good for mind and body
Taking a regular walk may help women to keep their brains young, research suggests.

Scientists have found that women who walk regularly are less likely to experience memory loss and other declines in mental (cognitive) function that are linked to the ageing process.

Lead researcher Dr Kristine Yaffe, a neurologist at the University of California, San Francisco, said: "This is an important intervention that all of us can do and it could have huge implications in preventing cognitive decline."

You should exercise if you want to be fit and healthy, not only physically but mentally too

Caroline Bradley, Research into Ageing
The researchers tested the cognitive abilities of 5,925 women who were 65 and older once and then again six to eight years later.

They found that scores in the second test were significantly down among 24% of the women who walked for only half a mile a week.

However, a similar drop was recorded in only 17% of the most active women - who walked an average of nearly 18 miles a week.


Dr Yaffe said: "We also found that for every extra mile walked per week there was a 13% less chance of cognitive decline.

"So you don't need to be running marathons. The exciting thing is there was a 'dose' relationship which showed that even a little is good but more is better."

Dr Yaffe said activities that would reduce the risk of cognitive decline included:

  • playing tennis twice a week
  • walking a mile per day
  • playing golf once a week

Mental performance may be linked to the health of the cardiovascular system as a healthy supply of blood to the brain is essential.

There are a number of studies that suggest poor cardiovascular health is linked to depression.

Dr Arthur Kramer, of the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois, said exercise may have a more direct effect on the chemistry of the brain.

He said: "I think there are a number of molecular, cellular and biochemical changes that occur as a function of improved fitness."

Caroline Bradley, of the charity Research into Ageing, told BBC News Online: "This research emphasises the sensible advice that you should exercise if you want to be fit and healthy, not only physically but mentally too."

The research was presented to the annual meeting of American Academy of Neurology in Philadelphia.

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01 May 01 | Health
Anti-ageing breakthrough
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