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Exercising and Alzheimer’s Disease

Exercise and staying physically active is important for everyone as they get older, but perhaps especially so for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. Exercise has positive effects on physical and mental health, and contributes to overall well-being and health. Individuals with Alzheimer’s disease who exercise maintain their independence for much longer. It is also associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline.1 Exercise can help address potential risk factors for dementia, like high blood pressure, and can help increase blood flow to the brain.1 Continued physical activity can help prevent muscle weakness and keep one strong, and may have beneficial effects chemicals that protect nerve cells in the brain.2 It can also help promote one’s general daily routine, boost mood, and help with insomnia.2

Choose the exercise that is right for the person with Alzheimer’s and the one they find the most enjoyable. Walking is a great exercise and has been shown to prevent cognitive decline. Other types of exercise include gardening, swimming, resistance training, biking, tai chi, yoga, dance classes.

Before starting any exercise routine or getting involved with physical activity, talk with a doctor about whether it is safe and appropriate, what sorts of activities might be best, and if there are any activities that should be avoided.

Here are some things to think about when starting an exercise program.

Group activities

Joining a class like water aerobics, dance class, or other exercise class can be a great way to keep social and build friendships, while also decreasing social isolation that some people feel after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Walking or bike riding with a friend, golfing with buddies, or gardening with a neighbor are also other physical activities that can be done.

Exercise tips

Starting an exercise routine (with a doctor’s permission) is exciting and can be a great addition to a person’s wellness habits. Here are some tips to keep in mind2,3:

  • Don’t forget a short warm-up and cool-down with each exercise period; this will help the muscles adjust and help reduce the risk of injury
  • Make sure the environment is safe: avoid slippery floors, poor lighting, or uneven ground
  • If an individual doesn’t know where to begin, check out exercise videos especially for older people
  • Wearing a medical ID band containing one’s name and emergency contact is a good safety precaution if exercising alone
  • Water activities may be easier on the bones and joints, and if the person has balance issues, this might be a good place to start
  • If a person feels sick or sore during the activity, stop
  • Wear appropriate clothing and well-made shoes that are intended for the activity
  • Don’t forget to stay hydrated during and after physical activity

Things to consider

As Alzheimer’s disease progresses, coordination, balance, and ability to move are decreased. Some people with Alzheimer’s may not be able to exercise as they used to, but they can still maintain physical activity. With proper safety precautions, a person with Alzheimer’s may be able to use a stationary bike or treadmill, lift small weights, take a chair exercise class, and use exercise balls and resistance bands.3 If modifications need to be made to an exercise routine because of physical limitations, talk with a doctor about possibly seeing a physical therapist or personal trainer who specializes in older people or those with different needs – they can share the proper changes that need to be made, as well as safe ways to work out so injuries don’t happen.

Written by: Jaime Rochelle Herndon | Last reviewed: June 2019
  1. Alzheimer’s Association. Stay Physically Active. 2019. https://www.alz.org/help-support/brain_health/stay_physically_active Accessed March 17, 2019.
  2. Cleveland Clinic. Alzheimer’s Disease: Exercise and Nutrition. 2011. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/9582-alzheimers-disease-exercise--nutrition- Accessed March 17, 2019.
  3. National Institute on Aging. Staying Physically Active with Alzheimer’s. 2017. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/staying-physically-active-alzheimers Accessed March 17, 2019.