We all know how important exercise is for reducing dementia risk, but the type of movement is also important, as one study claims
Walking up the stairs is a great way to boost your daily exercise count, but going down them could be just as beneficial (if not more) when it comes to reducing dementia risk. That’s what a review of studies by researchers from Edith Cowan University in Western Australia is claiming.
They believe that encouraging elderly people to walk down stairs means they’re undertaking what is known as “eccentric” exercise. This is where the muscles are lengthened rather than contracted (which is what would happen if they were to walk up the stairs).
According to the researchers, lengthening the muscles requires more brain power, which in turn helps to reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
In a study, men aged 60 to 76 followed a regime of eccentric exercises versus “concentric” exercises (where the muscle is contracted – or shortened) for a period of 12 weeks. Various health and fitness factors were monitored during this time including heart rate, blood pressure, blood lipid (fat) profile and insulin sensitivity. Those who did the eccentric exercises had lower numbers, suggesting the eccentric exercises were better for them.
Plus, retired people from a community centre in Perth are being monitored in a ‘Stay Sharp’ pilot program while they do various eccentric exercises, including walking down stairs and slopes, sitting down and lying down slowly and lowering a dumbbell slowly.
It’s thought that eccentric exercise is less metabolically challenging, easy to do and when repeatedly performed, actually offers greater increases in muscle strength and mass, making them ideal exercises for older people.
Professor Ken Nosaka from Edith Cowan University, who led the study, explains how walking down stairs can help.
‘The front tight muscles are lengthened when stopping the body moving forward, in contrast to walking up stairs where the front tight muscles are basically performing concentric contractions.
‘It is also important to note that eccentric exercise requires more cognitive demand, which may help prevent cognitive decline.’
Moreover, the improvements in health factors such as insulin sensitivity and blood pressure can also have a direct effect on dementia risk.
‘It is well documented that diabetes is one of the causes of dementia, so if eccentric exercise can improve insulin sensitivity, it should be effective for preventing dementia,’ he says.
‘While at this stage we do not know exactly how eccentric exercise will affect cognitive function, it should be beneficial for all ages including children.’
Our advice? Walk up AND down the stairs wherever you can to help boost ALL areas of your health!
For more tips on improving strength, click here.