Outside the Box: This one simple habit can cut your risk of dementia

I recently wrote about things we can do to protect our finances in the event we suffer cognitive decline. This may not be anybody’s favorite subject, but it’s an important one.

 Many of us have firsthand experience with the ravages of dementia. It can upend a carefully crafted retirement plan and necessitate costly medical care. Like many of my friends and colleagues, I’d like to know if there are things I can do to prevent or forestall the onset of mental decline.

Read: The new rules of aging well involve small but mighty daily decisions

Harvard Medical School published an article listing six factors that may help prevent cognitive decline:

  • Engage in regular exercise.
  • Eat a Mediterranean diet emphasizing fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein.
  • Limit alcohol consumption to about one drink per day.
  • Get quality sleep. Seven to eight hours per night is optimal.
  • Get mental stimulation. Reading, writing, puzzles, card or board games, group discussions and playing music were mentioned.
  • Find some form of regular social engagement.

A friend’s mother suffered from severe Alzheimer’s disease. He was concerned that this might increase his risk, and he expressed this concern to his doctor at an annual checkup. The doctor had a similar family history and shared my friend’s concern. He told him that he’d been studying dementia for a number of years and that, among the studies he’d reviewed, the one common element in reducing the risk of dementia was walking.

Read: Eating these foods may slow Alzheimer’s by a third

A recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s neurology publication added some credence to my friend’s anecdote. The article describes a study that monitored more than 78,000 adults and looked at the relationship between the number of steps walked each day and the chances of developing dementia.

The article referenced previous findings that indicated that walking reduces the risk of many of the causes of illness and mortality, including cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes. The article states that “an optimal dose of 6,000 to 8,000 steps has been suggested to reduce the risk of all-cause mortality.”

In our previous home in suburban Philadelphia, there were limited opportunities to walk to a store or café. I usually walked around the neighborhood or drove to a park.

Our oldest son and his family live in Manhattan. Walking is a way of life for them. It’s how they go shopping, get to the park, go to school and visit friends. They routinely exceed 10,000 steps per day. When we visit, we also walk everywhere.

In our current home, I still take walks just for exercise. There are lots of destinations to walk to, including downtown cafes and restaurants, plus there’s a 2.5-mile-long boardwalk.

Read: Eating 400 calories a day from these foods could raise your dementia risk by over 20%

I like to think of this as functional walking. Combining brain-healthy walking with an errand or a social occasion is a great “twofer.” There’s something especially gratifying about walking to a store, coffee shop or restaurant. You feel like you earned that cafe latte.

My commitment to regular walking will be tested in the near future. I’m planning to have my left knee replaced in early January. I had my right knee replaced in September 2019. I waited too long to have that one replaced; the last year prior to the surgery was one of constant pain and very limited mobility. A two-week trip to Italy in May of that year was largely wasted.

Read: Here’s one thing mindfulness won’t help, new research says

The left knee has been mostly pain-free, but the X-rays don’t lie. There’s hardly any cartilage left and bone spurs abound. The surgeon told me I was “one fall or twist” from a lot of pain. An hour of pickleball yesterday confirmed the doctor’s warning. It’s sore today, though not too bad. I’ll take a walk after I finish writing this.

I’m thankful that the medical technology is available to help people like me overcome the challenges of age and excess. I look forward to continuing to walk for many more years. And I’m gladdened that it may help me stay mentally sharp as well.

This article first appeared on Humble Dollar and was republished with permission.

Richard Connor is a semiretired aerospace engineer with a keen interest in finance. Follow Rick on Twitter @RConnor609 and check out his earlier articles.

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