The Importance of Fitness and Exercise for Our Loved Ones with Dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease

exercise and fitness for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer's DiseaseExercise and fitness are important aspects of life and are beneficial for everyone, but particularly for our loved ones with Alzheimer’s Disease and dementias.

There has been significant research that shows that leading a life that is physically active and includes regular exercise can have a positive impact on overall health and well-being.

People who exercise regularly have improved levels of general cardiovascular health, stronger bones and, therefore, a reduced risk of osteoporosis. They also tend to sleep better at night and have improved strength and balance, which can reduce the fall risks for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Exercise has other wonderful health benefits too. Any level of regular physical exercise can have a positive impact on emotional health.

Exercise may help alleviate some of the symptoms of depression, a common condition in our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, particularly in the early steps of the journey through these diseases.

Exercise can be beneficial with depression symptoms because it releases endorphins and other mood-enhancing brain chemicals. And even if our loved ones have reduced mobility or are in the middle-to-late steps of the journey through dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, there are still ways to incorporate regular exercise into their daily routines.

Listed below are a few simple exercises for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Exercises Using A Chair

Seated exercises are ideal for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease since they tend to have stability issues. Additionally, chair exercises are a great way to begin getting more physically active if our loved ones haven’t been for a while.

Seated exercises can help to build and maintain essential muscle strength and balance, but they are much less strenuous than standing exercises and reduce the risk of falls and/or injuries.

It’s important to use a sturdy chair with a back (I would recommend one that’s roomy with arms to prevent our loved ones from falling off sideways) for seated exercises and for us to be close by to assist if need be.

With our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, it’s important to take the time to do these exercises at their pace. This includes taking the extra time to patiently coach – without expecting perfection in execution or repetition, with “good enough” done safely being “great.”

It would be ideal to begin each exercise session by breathing in as deeply as possible and then breathing out gently (if our loved ones are able to lift their arms to the side while doing this, it will help increase lung capacity, but if not, that’s okay).

We may have to coach and show our loved ones how to do this, doing the breathing exercises with them to encourage them to follow our example. Repeat this up to a maximum of ten times.

1st exercise (shoulder rolls): Lift the left shoulder up, then take a deep breath in. Breathe out as the shoulder drops. Then, lift the right shoulder up, then take a deep breath in. Breathe out as the shoulder drops. Alternate between the left and right shoulder up to ten times.

2nd exercise (neck strength): In the same sitting position, tilt the head back. Following the same breathing pattern as before, breathe in as the head is tilted back, then breathe out the head moves forward. Then, breath in as the head is turned to the left and breath out as the head is turned to the right. Repeat, alternating between back and forth and left and right up to ten times.

3rd exercise (sitting march): Pace can be as slow or fast as is comfortable. Lift the right knee up and breathe in; put that same foot down and breathe out. Repeat the same process with your left leg. Alternate between left leg and right leg up to twenty times.

4th exercise (leg stretches): Extend the left leg fully, breathing in as it’s extended, and breathing out as it is bent. Repeat with right leg. Alternate between left and right legs up to ten times.

5th exercise (ankles): Cross the left leg over the right leg, and rotate the left foot. Then, cross the right leg over the left leg, and rotate the right foot. Alternate between left and right foot, breathing rhythmically throughout, up to ten times.

Exercising to Music

In the early steps of the journey through dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, our loved ones may be able to do slightly more strenuous exercises around the home, such as gardening, walking up and down the stairs or even dancing.

Exercising to music can make the activity a much more enjoyable experience. Since listening to music can also be beneficial in many ways for our loved ones with dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, incorporating music into daily activities like exercise makes perfect sense in our overall care strategy.

going gentle into that good night divider

This is a guest post by Helen Bowden, fitness trainer and nutritionist with experience in dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease 

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