If you need a reason to get up and move more, here it is: A newly published study finds that walking 10,000 steps per day helps lower your risk of developing dementia. In fact, even 4,000 steps a day is enough to decrease dementia risk by one-quarter, according to a study published in JAMA Neurology.
“There is evidence that physical activity can enhance dementia prevention amongst the general population. Yet, people are not sufficiently active,” Borja del Pozo Cruz, Ph.D., an associate professor in population health at the University of Southern Denmark and the lead author of the study, told Health. “We thought that by providing specific stepping recommendations, people would pay more attention to physical activity, as steps and walking are something everyone understands and require very little resources.”
This is an important breakthrough at a time when dementia numbers are rising rapidly—55 million people worldwide live with dementia and the World Health Organization reports there are nearly 10 million new cases each year. What’s more, a 2022 study published in The Lancet forecasts the number of dementia cases in people over 40 will triple by 2050.
Correlation Found Between Walking and Lower Dementia Risk
Spearheaded by researchers from the University of Sydney, Australia, and the University of Southern Denmark, the new study involved following 78,430 adults between the ages of 40 to 79.
Study participants were required to use a wrist-worn accelerometer tracker on their dominant wrist for a week to record their walking progress. Researchers then analyzed the participant’s health outcomes over the next seven years, including monitoring for any dementia diagnoses.
The study’s final data analysis excluded participants who had a previous history of heart disease, cancer, or dementia at the study’s outset—all participants were disease-free in the first two years of the study.
However, as of October 2021, 866 participants, or 1.1%, had subsequently developed dementia, researchers found. Additionally, the data showed there was an association between more daily steps and lower dementia risk.
The Exact Number of Steps Matters
Researchers found that people who walked an average of 9,826 steps a day appeared to be the least likely to develop dementia. Specifically, walking nearly 9,800 steps was needed to reduce dementia risk by 50%.
“The greatest reductions in dementia risk was achieved at [almost] 10,000 steps per day. Although popular, this target has never before [been] studied under rigorous scientific designs,” said Dr. del Pozo Cruz.
It’s also worth noting that walking more than this amount did not seem to confer any further dementia-related health benefits.
The least amount of walking where researchers still observed an effect on dementia risk was 3,826 steps. Walking nearly 3,800 steps, researchers found, was linked to a 25% lower incidence of dementia. This finding is also in line with a 2020 study that found that taking at least 4,000 steps a day was enough to lower a person’s mortality risk.
The key takeaway here? Walking 10,000 steps a day is a popular goal, but the study suggests you can already start seeing health benefits by walking 4,000 steps daily.