Research Shows Walking Can Blunt Cognitive Decline

A new study from the University of Kansas shows that walking can help stave off cognitive decline in older adults. “People can walk either to get somewhere or for leisure,” said Amber Watts, assistant professor of clinical psychology. Watts said neighborhoods that inspire walking for leisure also are full of pleasant things to look at, like walking trails or shade provided by trees. Also, such neighborhoods should make people feel secure on foot. “For older adults, safety is a key issue in walkability,” she said. “That includes things like traffic lights that give ample time to cross, sidewalks that are in good repair, and benches to stop and rest.” The researcher judged walkability using geographic information systems — essentially maps that measure and analyze spatial data. Watts said easy-to-walk communities resulted in better outcomes both for physical health — such as lower body mass and blood pressure — and cognition (such as better memory) in the 25 people with mild Alzheimer’s disease and 39 older adults without cognitive impairment she tracked. She believes that older adults, health care professionals, caregivers, architects, and urban planners could benefit from the findings. For example, she found that intricate community layouts might help to keep cognition sharp, rather than serve as a source of confusion in older adults. With the Burke-Gilman Trail nearby and all the improvements and changes occurring in Bothell, walking could be a primary means of exercise for older individuals.

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