In fact, research presented earlier this year at the Gerontological Society of America’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C., suggests that the more a community encourages walking, either for transportation or for leisure, the better the cognitive health of its elderly residents.
The Mind as a Muscle
The study, conducted by the University of Kansas, noted that elaborately laid out communities did not confuse elderly residents who walk for transportation, but rather sharpened their focus. Amber Watts, an associate professor of clinical psychology at the University of Kansas, pointed out that such communities demand higher mental function in order to navigate them on foot. This aligns with previous studies that indicate that the mind, like any other muscle, requires use to remain healthy and strong.
Even if seniors don’t enjoy the luxury of living in a walkable community, walking for the sake of walking is beneficial in its own right. A study conducted by the University of California, San Francisco compared elder women who walked 2.5 miles per day to those who walked less than a half-mile per week. The research found that the latter group experienced 8 percent more decline in memory than the former.
Another study conducted by the University of Virginia Health System in Charlottesville revealed that men between the ages of 71 and 93 who walked more than a quarter of a mile every day experienced half the incidence of dementia and Alzheimer’s compared to those who walked less.
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