Move it or lose it

Published 5.25.2017
An hour long walk three times a week improves the well-being of dementia sufferers. Ignore doctors and gurus that downplay the benefits of walking— for any reason. Movement is essential for health and longevity.

The study in question was not looking at Alzheimer’s, which may be the most famous form of dementia, but is not the only kind. In the case, the cause of dementia was vascular cognitive impairment, which when blood flow to the brain is disrupted. If this brings to mind cardiovascular disease, then we are on the same page. Anything that improves blood flow to the heart by diminishing vessel blockages, ought to improve blood flow to the brain.

The best way to do that, in my view based on my reading and research to date, is to eat a diet of mostly plants, particularly legumes (beans). The macronutrient ratio of the diet is mostly unimportant, but extremely high fat diets seem to be bad news. That’s worth every penny you paid to read it, the best diet for people is one that allows them to be healthy and one they can adhere to for the rest of their life.

After six months, the walkers blood pressure was lower and their cognitive skills improved, but did they keep walking after the study ended? No, most did not, despite reportedly enjoying the activity. At that point, what can you do? Here you show people that just a bit of movement improves their brain function… and it made no difference. A future study will look to see how fast the gains as a result of exercise decay. My guess: pretty rapidly. Use it or lose it.

A number of people in the comments note that not everyone can walk, and they question whether or not some other form of exercise would accrue the same benefit. There are many reasons people lose the ability to walk, but previous research has indicated that the ability to walk is often by itself an indicator of overall heath. Still, my guess would be that any kind of movement would be preferable to being sedentary.

Stretching counts as movement

Also related to vascular health (people with blockages in one area of the circulatory system usually have blockages or the beginnings of blockages elsewhere), stretching calf muscles for a month helped peripheral artery disease sufferers walk despite severe cramping (claudication). Simple stretching was better than drugs.

Investigators randomized 13 patients to 4 weeks of muscle stretching (30 minutes a day, 5 days a week) or a sedentary lifestyle sans stretching. At follow-up, flow-mediated dilation was better in the stretching group (5.2% versus 3.7% for no stretching, P=0.003), as was this cohort's 6-minute walking distance (355 versus 311 meters, P=0.007). What's more, relative gains in walking distance correlated with flow-mediated dilation (P=0.03).

There was no difference in nitroglycerin-induced dilation between groups, however (10.9% versus 9.9%, P=0.54), reported study authors led by Kazuki Hotta, PhD, of Tokyo's University of Electro-Communications.

Stretching can hardly be considered exercise, it is, however, movement. And movement is essential for health and longevity. These subjects were 71 years old on average, and most were on statins and other medications, as is typical for the elderly in the US, unfortunately.

Actually, people don't even have to "elderly" to have a handful of pills that they swallow every day, at least in my observation. This is completely anecdotal, but having a child who is a physician seems to up the aggressiveness of the treatment chosen. I take the more conservative approach, which I acknowledge, might one day bite my in the ass. However, so far so good, and when there is a problem, I do listen and follow the treatment protocol. I sense though that as the years pass, I may need to advocate for my approach with more determination. Aging is not a disease.