Staying active: the importance of exercise
Staying physically active should be a priority for those with dementia, since it can have an important impact on both physical and mental health. This doesn’t need to be a formal regimen. On the contrary, getting the person involved in a variety of casual physical activities, such as walks, gardening and other pleasant diversions, can be of great benefit in improving overall well-being.
Advantages of exercise include:
- Improved cardiovascular health. In addition to reducing the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease, exercise may also help improve memory and slow some types of mental decline.
- Reduced risk for a variety of conditions, ranging from stroke and diabetes to breast and colon cancer.
- Stronger bones and less risk of osteoporosis.
- Improved strength, flexibility and balance, which can help reduce the risk of falls, a leading cause of injuries in older adults.
- An overall improved lifestyle, including better sleep, enhanced confidence and less feeling of isolation.
Planning an exercise program
As with any exercise program, before you begin, ask the person’s doctor if there are any health issues that need to be considered, such as high blood pressure, dizziness or fainting, joint pain or breathing problems.
You should choose the right types of exercise for the person’s abilities and interests. There may be a period of trial and error until you both determine the activities that are appropriate and enjoyable.
Types of exercise
Depending upon the person, the environment and the availability of local facilities, the following activities can provide opportunities for healthy physical activity:
- Seated exercises (whether at home or with a local class)
- Tai chi
How much is enough?
About 30 minutes of activity per day, at least five days a week, is recommended for people who are not currently physically active. Breaking up activities into shorter periods can also be done if a person finds it difficult to focus on activity for an extended session.
- Take it easy. Low intensity exercises are fine — the key is movement.
- Watch out for falls. Be especially aware of a person’s surroundings during physical activity to minimize the chance of falls, which happen to one third of all adults over 65 every year.
- Early may be better. People who experience “sundowning” may be especially tired or agitated as evening approaches. In these cases, try to schedule exercise activities at earlier times of day when attention levels are higher and behaviors are more manageable.