Exercise can’t cure Alzheimer’s, but it can slow its progression and improve your quality of life. And while there’s no definitive way to prevent Alzheimer’s, exercise may reduce your risk.

Aerobic exercise can help promote healthy blood flow to the brain and reduce the accumulation of certain proteins associated with Alzheimer’s disease. By reducing the accumulation of these proteins, regular exercise can help slow down the disease and enhance cognitive function and memory.

But people with Alzheimer’s may face unique challenges to engaging in regular exercise. Read on to learn more about the relationship between exercise and Alzheimer’s and how people with Alzheimer’s can safely and effectively engage in physical activity.

While there’s no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, research suggests that regular exercise can help slow its progression.

Engaging in moderate-intensity exercises like brisk walking or dancing can enhance blood flow to the brain and reduce the accumulation of beta-amyloid and tau proteins.

These proteins build up in the brain, leading to the characteristic symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. By reducing their accumulation, regular exercise can help slow the progression of the disease.

Additionally, exercise for Alzheimer’s disease can enhance cognitive function and memory, leading to improved brain health.

How does exercise help people with Alzheimer’s?

The benefits of regular exercise for people with Alzheimer’s include:

  • improved cognitive function
  • improved physical fitness, leading to greater independence
  • improved ability to perform regular tasks, such as cleaning, cooking, and dressing
  • improved sleep
  • increased opportunities for social interaction
  • reduced risk of sundowning
  • reduced risk of cardiovascular problems, osteoporosis, and diabetes
  • improved confidence, self-esteem, and mood

A 2020 review also notes that exercise has fewer side effects than medication, and people with Alzheimer’s are more likely to adhere to an exercise routine.

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The most appropriate exercise for Alzheimer’s can vary depending on the stage of the disease.

Early to middle stages

In the early to middle stages of Alzheimer’s, aerobic activities such as brisk walking, swimming, and light strength training can be beneficial, according to a 2020 research review.

These exercises can help improve cardiovascular health, flexibility, and muscle strength without causing excessive strain or discomfort.

Late stage

According to a 2023 review, a combination of exercise programs that include aerobics, strength, balance, and coordination can be beneficial in the late stages of Alzheimer’s.

Healthcare professionals may recommend sitting unsupported for a few minutes daily to strengthen posture and lying flat on the bed to help stretch.

However, consider talking with a healthcare professional before starting any new exercise program to ensure safety and comfort.

In addition to traditional exercise, there are other ways for people with Alzheimer’s to stay physically active. These may include:

  • Walking: Taking regular walks can be a great way to stay active and improve cardiovascular health. However, consider having a walking buddy or caregiver for safety.
  • Dancing: Dancing is physically engaging, mentally stimulating, and socially enjoyable. It can help improve balance, coordination, and overall well-being.
  • Gardening: Gardening can provide gentle exercise through planting, weeding, and watering. Therapeutic gardening also offers sensory stimulation and connection with nature.
  • Adapted exercises: It may be necessary to adapt exercises based on your abilities and limitations. Gentle stretching, chair exercises, or modified yoga can maintain mobility and flexibility while reducing the risk of injury.
  • Exercise groups: Joining exercise groups for people with Alzheimer’s can provide a supportive and inclusive environment for maintaining physical activity.

Tips for physical activity in people with Alzheimer’s

Caring for a person with Alzheimer’s may have several challenges, including providing opportunities for physical activity. Here are some tips to facilitate physical activity:

  • Choose familiar and enjoyable activities: Opt for activities your loved one used to enjoy. Familiarity can help boost motivation and engagement.
  • Maintain a routine: Consistency in timing and duration of exercise can help create structure and predictability, reducing agitation and resistance.
  • Modify activities based on abilities: Adjust the intensity and complexity of activities to match their current capabilities. Start with simple movements and gradually increase the challenge as tolerated.
  • Integrate cognitive stimulation: Incorporate stimulating activities while being physically active. This could include simple games, puzzles, or incorporating movement sequences alongside cognitive tasks.
  • Use music as a motivator: Music has a powerful effect on mood and engagement. Play their favorite tunes to enhance motivation and enjoyment during physical activities.
  • Consider wearing an ID bracelet or tag: If your loved one is able to go out for walks independently, consider having them wear an ID bracelet or tag with their name and your contact information in case they need assistance or become disoriented.
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While there’s no definitive way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, leading a physically active lifestyle may help reduce the risk or delay its onset.

Research also links regular exercise to improved cardiovascular health, reduced inflammation, and improved brain function in older adults.

Therefore, incorporating a combination of aerobic exercises, strength training, and brain-stimulating activities into daily routines can contribute to a healthier brain and a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

Here are some frequently asked questions about exercise for Alzheimer’s.

How much exercise should people with Alzheimer’s get?

The authors of a 2020 study recommend that people with Alzheimer’s engage in regular moderate-intensity exercise for at least 45 minutes per day on as many days of the week as possible. But this may vary depending on overall health and abilities.

What exercises should people with Alzheimer’s avoid?

People with Alzheimer’s should avoid complex movements or high impact exercises that require quick decision-making or complex coordination and exercises that may put them at risk of injury.

What is the best diet for people with Alzheimer’s?

Research suggests that a MIND diet, which is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, might be best for people with Alzheimer’s, as it contributes to brain health and overall well-being. However, more studies are needed.

While exercise can’t cure Alzheimer’s, regular physical activity may slow its progression and improve cognitive function.

You can enhance your quality of life by incorporating the right exercises, engaging in alternative activities, and following a healthy lifestyle.

It’s advisable to adjust the exercise routine to your abilities. Consider talking with a healthcare professional before starting any new exercise program.