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Physical Exercise and Dementia

Keep moving. That is the message from experts about staying fit both mentally and physically for people with dementia. However, with over 70 kinds of dementia, there is no single recommendation for the best physical exercise and what results to expect.

“People should do what they enjoy doing and what they are used to doing,” said Amelia Schafer, education director at the Alzheimer’s Association in Denver, Colorado. This might be walking or dancing or golf or a variety of activities.

The best activities for people suffering from dementia or to possibly decrease one’s risk to dementia are cardiovascular workouts. “A cardio workout is the most beneficial,” said Ms. Schafer. “Anything that can increase oxygen and blood flow to the brain.”

But she cautions that the risks should not outweigh the benefits. Because dementia can impair balance and visual perception, someone with dementia should maybe do chair exercises or help in the garden rather than play tennis or continue to ski.

“If a person is frustrated trying to learn dance moves, then they should just go for a walk,” she said.

Additionally, these same problems with balance and visual perception can raise the risk of a fall, and the wrong type of exercise could cause a fall that leaves a person with a serious injury.

Exercise is also not a cure for dementia, but Schafer and other experts note that regular cardiovascular workouts can possibly improve the cognition of a person with dementia.

Schafer said that she was talking to an Alzheimer’s patient recently who commented that he was feeling better two years after his diagnosis. “He said the difference was that he was in a better mood, and exercise has a long history of impacting moods,” she said.

For more information, visit the Alzheimer’s Association’s website at www.alz.org.