Not only does walking help you (quite literally) get from point A to B, but it can also help you keep your weight in check—especially if you routinely go on walks at a moderate pace (and with inclines!). However, new research also suggests that the way you walk can even help health experts assess whether or not you have Alzheimer’s disease.
A recent study published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association analyzed walking patterns and brain function of 500 older adults, all of whom are currently enrolled in clinical trials. This is the first study of its kind to pinpoint how different walking patterns can help professionals more accurately diagnose different types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. (Related: 15 Underrated Weight Loss Tips That Actually Work).
“We have longstanding evidence showing that cognitive problems, such as poor memory and executive dysfunction, can be predictors of dementia. Now, we’re seeing that motor performance, specifically the way you walk, can help diagnose different types of neurodegenerative conditions,” Dr. Manuel Montero-Odasso, a scientist at Lawson Health Research Institute and professor at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, said in a statement.
For the study, researchers compared impairments in the participants’ pattern of walking (also known as gait) across the cognitive spectrum. This included people with Subjective Cognitive Impairment, Parkinson’s Disease, Mild Cognitive Impairment, and Alzheimer’s disease, and Lewy Body disease.
Four independent gait patterns were identified in the study (rhythm, pace, variability, and postural control). Interestingly, only high gait variability was associated with lower cognitive performance. It also identified Alzheimer’s disease with 70% accuracy.
Gait variability refers to the stride-to-stride fluctuations in walking, which, in part, allows researchers to quantify movement with aging and disease. Your doctor, or a neurologist, can also likely determine whether or not you have high gait variability after they monitor how you walk.
“This is the first strong evidence showing that gait variability is an important marker for processes happening in areas of the brain that are linked to both cognitive impairment and motor control,” said Dr. Frederico Perruccini-Faria, research assistant at Lawson and Postdoctoral Associate at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, who is also the first author on the paper.
“We’ve shown that high gait variability as a marker of this cognitive-cortical dysfunction can reliably identify Alzheimer’s disease compared to other neurodegenerative disorders.”
Again, this isn’t the first study to uncover this connection. In fact, a 2019 study from Alzheimer’s & Dementia clearly stated, “Alzheimer’s and Lewy body disease have unique signatures of gait impairment.”
Walking has also been shown to help delay the onset of the degenerative brain disease. One 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that cognitive function in seniors who only did aerobic exercises were three times better than that of those who did a combination of aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercises.
Strive to walk at least thirty minutes, five days a week to improve your aerobic fitness and potentially stave off both cognitive and chronic diseases.
For more, be sure to check out One Major Side Effect of Walking Every Day, Says New Study.