- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The elderly who walk regularly show less cognitive decline than those who don’t, and a combination of exercise, not smoking, and a diet rich in fish can contribute to the longevity of those 70 and older, new studies suggest.

Three studies with those findings are included in this week’s issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

One report, prepared by researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, found that men between the ages of 71 and 93 who walked less than a quarter of a mile daily had nearly twice the risk of contracting Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia as those who walked more than two miles per day.

Those in the former category were the “most sedentary” in the study, said Robert D. Abbott, professor of biostatistics at the University of Virginia and author of the study.

“If I were sedentary, these results would be enough to make me consider becoming active. But, of course, elderly people should do this carefully and under the care of a physician,” Mr. Abbott said.

Alzheimer’s disease is a degenerative condition affecting mostly the elderly. There is no cure and it affects 4.5 million Americans.

“We worked with a sample of 2,257 men, all of whom were required to be physically capable. None used canes or walkers,” Mr. Abbott said.

During the course of a six-to-eight-year followup period, 158 cases of dementia were identified in the study population. Researchers found a “1.9-fold excess risk of total dementia” in men who walked less than a quarter of a mile per day, compared with those who walked more than two miles per day.

Mr. Abbott said the findings in the University of Virginia study mirror those of an earlier study in New York.

That study of 18,766 women, ages 70 to 81, conducted by Harvard researchers, also found that those who engaged in high levels of physical activity, including walking, scored better on cognitive performance tests.

For example, women who walked at an easy pace for at least 1 hours per week had higher cognitive scores than those who walked less than 40 minutes weekly. And those who were put into two groups classified as having the highest levels of physical activity had “significantly less cognitive decline than women with the lowest rate of physical activity.”

“The apparent cognitive benefits of greater physical activity were similar in extent to being about three years younger in age and were associated with a 20 percent lower risk of cognitive impairment,” the researchers, led by Jennifer Weuve of the Harvard School of Public Health, wrote.

Another study in JAMA, conducted by investigators at Wageningen University in The Netherlands, found that people age 70 to 90 who exercised 30 minutes daily, ate a so-called “Mediterranean-type” diet and did not smoke, had a 10-year death rate more than 50 percent lower than those who did not.

Those factors are “associated with a significantly lower mortality rate, even in old age,” the authors wrote.

Lead investigator Kim Knoops explained that a Mediterranean-style diet is one that is rich in fish, fruits and vegetables, and low in meat and dairy products.

This study, conducted between 1988 and 2000, involved 1,507 men and 832 women, ages 70 to 90, from 11 European nations.

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