Understanding the role of exercise in dementia

What is dementia?

Dementia is the term used to describe the symptoms of a large group of illnesses that cause a progressive decline in a person’s functioning. While these symptoms are different from person to person, it commonly affects thinking, communication, memory, social behaviour, and physical functioning.

How can exercise help people with dementia?

Physical exercise should be continued for as long as possible for people with dementia, as it has been found to have several benefits. It can help prevent muscle weakness, mobility problems and other health complications associated with inactivity. It can help promote a normal day-night routine, improve mood, and increase social participation.

Exercise also plays a part in reducing stress and depression, which are commonly experienced by people with dementia. An exercise program incorporated into a person’s lifestyle in the early stages of dementia is more likely to be maintained as the condition progresses, extending the benefits to health and well-being for as long as possible.

What is the best exercise?

It is important to incorporate a combination of exercise (resistance, aerobic and balance) in your routine, but this does not mean one is better than the other. Research has shown aerobic may assist with improving vascular function and growth of neurons which can reduce the progression of cognitive decline, by maintaining the size of the brain. But the same can be said about resistance training as the University of Sydney funded a study that, showed six months of strength training slowed and even halted, the degeneration. They did that for 45 minutes, twice a week, for six months halted the degeneration of the brain. This shows us that healthy behaviours like exercise lead to better vascular health and therefore better brain health. Unfortunately, exercise can’t completely prevent or cure dementia.

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