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Can exercise help with dementia?

There has been increasing evidence that exercise reduces the chance of Alzheimer's disease by almost half, this is supported by the landmark study conducted by Cambridge University which looked at the seven lifestyle threats fuelling rising levels of dementia. The research has stated that one in three cases for the condition can be prevented if individuals increased their activity levels. Making healthier lifestyle choices such as quitting smoking can also reduce the risk of dementia as it was found that smoking increases dementia risk by 59 percent. In the study published in the Lancet Neurology, exercise is identified as the most significant factor in protection against the condition.

Why exercise and what are the benefits?

Exercise is not only beneficial for general health helping us to retain our cognitive and physical abilities as we age, it can help protect against dementia and slow down the progression of the condition. Many studies have revealed that what is good for the heart is also good for the brain, therefore it is important to keep these both as a top priority when it comes to preventing many conditions not just dementia. This is something regular exercise plays a huge part in, many of the other benefits of exercising involve:

  • Helping with sleeping and preventing restlessness
  • Reducing the risk of depression
  • Encouraging social well being. You can meet like minded people by joining exercise groups or at the gym
  • Physical fitness and wellbeing
  • Helping individuals keep in touch with nature by using the outdoors
  • Helping to promote an active lifestyle
  • Minimising the risk of some injuries as you will be physically fitter
  • Obesity in mid-life increases the risk of conditions such as Alzheimer's disease by 60 per cent, exercising can help prevent this. (Cambridge Study in the Lancet Neurology)

What type and how much exercise?

This is dependant on the individual and factors such as fitness, age and other health issues need to be considered. Before embarking on any rigorous fitness regime it's always advisable to consult your doctor, however as a basic most studies recommend moderate exercise such as walking done frequently. In terms of moderate exercise this is recommended 4 to 5 times a week with 30 minute sessions, if you are able to then three 20 minute bursts of vigorous exercise are recommended.

You don't have to do this all at once, with the moderate sessions you can break these into 2 sessions of 15 minute walks or whatever fits your routine best. There are also many ways to achieve being active that doesn't involve taking time out of your day to go to the gym, for instance you can do fifteen minutes housework in the morning and then a short walk in the afternoon. The following day can be some gardening followed by walking around a shopping centre. Keeping a diary to keep on top of your weekly routine and fit in all your exercise will also help.

In the later stages of dementia it is advisable to encourage the person to move about from room to room and do small activities that will keep them and their brain active. Try and get them moving as often as possible as this will help maintain muscle strength, good balance and joint flexibility. If the person is at a stage where they are confined to a bed due to their illness, it would be advisable to seek advice from a physio or an occupational therapist. With the advice from a professional a plan can be put in place for gentle exercises, that can help with keeping muscles and joints healthy.

Finally

Overall leading a physically active lifestyle can have a significant impact on the wellbeing of people with dementia. Exercise is beneficial for physical and mental health and may improve the quality of life for people in all stages of the condition. It is therefore important to incorporate exercise in their daily routine where possible, this will help both in the long and short term.

If you'd like to discuss Alzheimer's with a member of our team or find out more about our home care services, don't hesitate to contact us today.