Exercise is an excellent, non-drug way to improve your well-being and reduce challenging behaviors in people living with dementia. The important thing is to find exercises that are enjoyable and safe for their ability level.
Staying active improves sleep, strength, flexibility, and circulation. Exercising is also an effective way to reduce fall risk and can reduce pain. Plus, it’s a great way to boost mood and self-esteem. All these benefits work to reduce and manage challenging behaviors like agitation, sundowning, disrupted sleep, and more.
The benefits of exercise will vary depending on the person. But in general, being active improves health and well-being in many ways, including:
- improving the health of the heart and blood vessels, which can reduce the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease
- reducing the risk of some types of cancer (particularly breast and colon cancer), stroke and type 2 diabetes
- improving physical fitness – maintaining strong muscles and flexible joints can help people maintain independence for longer
- improving the ability to dress, clean, cook and perform other daily activities (as these may be performed more effectively if someone is fitter or more supple)
- helping to keep bones strong and reducing the risk of osteoporosis (a disease that affects the bones, making them weak and more likely to break)
- improving cognition – recent studies have shown that exercise may improve memory and slow down mental decline
- improving sleep
- providing opportunities for social interaction and reducing the feeling of isolation
- reducing the risk of falls by improving strength and balance
- improving confidence
- increasing self-esteem
- improving mood.
Simple ways to encourage someone with dementia to exercise
Getting someone with dementia to exercise may not always be easy, especially if they haven’t exercised regularly in the past.
It may help if you don’t refer to it as exercise, but treat it as just another regular task in their daily routine or as a fun special activity like a “dance party.”
Leading them in exercise may seem like yet another thing to pack into your nonstop day, but it’s a great way to reduce challenging behaviors and improve sundowning symptoms – plus it helps you get active too.
The following are simple ways of encouraging exercise:
- Walking around the house, the yard, or outside for any amount of time is wonderful for body and mind. You could even combine the walk by doing an errand together like walking the dog or going to the grocery store.
- The sit to stand exercise – strengthens muscles needed for essential activities like using the toilet.
- Stay balanced in a standing position (hold on to a support when needed) this improves balance and posture, can be a standalone exercise or part of an everyday activity like washing dishes.
- Sit unsupported for a few minutes each day (with constant supervision to prevent falls) – strengthens the abdominal and back muscles needed for posture.
- Stretch while lying in bed – move various body parts and stretch stiff muscles, this can be done with assistance or independently.
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