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10 November 2014 - MNT - 'Easy-to-walk communities' linked to better cognition in older adults

Marie Ellis

It is well known that exercise is good for the mind and body, but to what extent does the neighborhood or community in which we live affect our physical and mental health? New research from the University of Kansas suggests the walkability of a community has a great impact on cognition in older adults.


If you would like to find out more about the importance of nutrition, diet and other lifestyle factors including excercise for healthy ageing, please see the recent FAB Research event in Oxford:

Friday 28 November 2014 - Healthy Ageing, Cognitive Decline and Dementia: The Role of Nutrition and Diet

Age and cognitive decline

Start Date: 28 November 2014
End Date: 28 November 2014
Duration 9.20 a.m. to 4.30 p.m.
Location Egrove Park, Kennington Road, Kennington, Oxford OX1 5NY
Venue Saïd Business School 

Previous studies have detailed the importance physical exercise has for executive function in older adults.

But how can the layout of a neighborhood encourage its residents to get out and walk? This is precisely what Amber Watts, assistant professor of clinical psychology at the University of Kansas, wanted to find out.

Her research, which she presented yesterday at the Gerontological Society of America's annual meeting in Washington, DC, suggests that neighborhoods that encourage walking can protect against cognitive decline in older adults.

To conduct the study, Watts and colleagues tracked 25 people with mild Alzheimer's disease and 39 older adults without any cognitive impairment. Using the space syntax data, they created a "walkability score" for the participants' home addresses.

Then, they estimated the relationship between a person's neighborhood scores and how well they performed on cognitive tests over 2 years. The cognitive tests included three categories: attention, verbal memory and mental status. The team also factored in issues that might influence cognitive scores, including age, gender, education and wealth.

Results from the study suggest that communities that are easier to walk in are linked to better physical health outcomes - such as lower body mass and blood pressure - and cognition - including better memory.

Watts and her colleagues believe their findings could benefit older adults, health care professionals, caregivers and even architects and urban planners.