women walking near the surf, Santa Cruz, CA - 2004
Physically active older women scored better on cognitive tests than those who were less active.
While we recently reported that men who walk a lot have a reduced risk of dementia, we didn't go into detail on the health impact for women. It's becoming clear that women also experience substantial benefits. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health surveyed nearly 20,000 women aged over 70 about their levels of physical activity. This was part of the famous long-running Nurses Health Study that has already provided so much information about healthy lifestyles.
The women took part in tests on cognitive ability, covering verbal fluency, memory and attention. Those in the highest activity category also had the highest cognitive scorings. More specifically, those who walked at an easy pace for at least 1.5 hours a week had better scores than those who walked for less than 40 minutes. The most active women had the lowest rate of cognitive decline. The researchers say the women who were active had the cognitive ability that would be expected of those about three years younger. And walking - not just more vigorous activity - was sufficient for achieving these gains.