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Can regular walking reduce dementia risk?

Posted by Eamonn Brady on

Eamonn Brady is a pharmacist and the owner of Whelehans Pharmacy, Pearse St, Mullingar. If you have any health questions e-mail them to

A new American study reported in the Guardian in 2014 indicateed that regular brisk walks can slow down the shrinking of the brain associated with old age, thus benefiting mental ability. A study found that people aged 60 to 80 who took a short walk three times a week over a year long period had an increase in size of brain regions linked to planning and memory. The walking stimulated an increase in size of the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus by 2% or 3%, over the year; this size increase was sufficient to offset normal brain shrinkage seen in people of this age group.

Professor Kirk Erickson, a neuroscientist at the University of Pittsburgh explains that while a 2 to 3% increase may sound like a small, actually an increase of this size is “like reversing the age clock by about one to two years”. People who took part in the study scored better in spatial memory tests and some indicated that they felt more mentally alert. Professor Erickson said many felt better mentally and emotionally and that the regular walking lifted the “fog” they were feeling.

Erickson picked 100 adults who did little if any exercise in their daily lives for the study. Two groups of 50 were randomly split. The first group walked for 30 to 45 minutes three days a week; the other group spent a similar amount of time doing stretching exercises.

After one year, brain scans of the two groups demonstrated minor increases in prefrontal cortex and hippocampus areas in both groups. However this effect was significantly greater in the walking group. Erickson explained "you don't need highly vigorous physical activity to see these effects. People are misled to believe they need years of vigorous physical exercise. But it only needs to be moderate, and not even for that long.” He explained that older people should not think there will be “an inevitable decline that we used to think there was."

Scientists do not yet know how exercise increases size of the two brain regions or how long the improvements last. While exercise is unlikely to stave off the brain's decline long term, it can help delay the inevitable decline brought with age and may slow the onset of dementia.

Upcoming Alzheimer’s Information Evening in Mullingar

Whelehans Pharmacy host a Dementia and Alzheimer’s Information evening in the Greville Arms Hotel on Thursday April 27th at 7pm. The event is free of charge and all are welcome. Speakers include:

  • Dr Michael O’Cuill, Consultant Psychiatrist; leading Dementia expert in Westmeath.
  • Mr Eamonn Brady, Pharmacist at Whelehans Pharmacy.
  • Donal Murphy, Regional Manager, Alzheimer Society Ireland


Book your place for the evening by calling Whelehans at 04493 34591 or e-mail

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