Dementia can be a difficult condition to cope with, but there are many different ways to ease the symptoms and potentially even improve one’s condition if they deal with severe symptoms of a regular basis.
One of healthiest ways to cope with dementia symptoms is to take advantage of the benefits of physical activity. This is because regular physical activity is part of a healthy lifestyle and helps to maintain not just physical wellbeing, but also mental health. It can improve body strength, it can lead to a healthy heart and there are also secondary benefits that aren’t directly related to physical activity. For example, attending a gym or exercise group can help create more opportunities for social interaction. This can be a great benefit to the patient but also their home carers. This is because engaging in social and physical activities can improve one’s self-esteem, boost their mood and ultimately contribute to a healthy lifestyle.
So in this article, we’re going to talk about how physical activity can help, how to take advantage of the benefits and also give some cautionary advice before you start to convince yourself or a loved one with dementia to start exercising.
Physical activity isn’t suitable for everyone
Physical activity has many benefits, but it’s vital that you take your current physical condition into consideration before you start to exercise. Exercising too much can actually stress out your heart and cause pain or sickness, and it can also aggravate existing symptoms if you’re not careful. As a result, you should always contact a doctor or seek medical advice before starting any exercise so that you can get some solid advice on what types of exercise to perform, for how long and when you should stop. If you or a loved one with dementia is feeling unwell, breathless or sick after exercise, then you should stop immediately and speak with a doctor as soon as possible.
Physical activity may also be difficult if you’re already experiencing pains or difficulties with mobility. There are likely some smaller or less-stressful physical activities that can help you maintain a healthy body, but the exercises you should be performing will depend greatly on your range of mobility, your personal health conditions and the services you have access to.
In short, never push yourself to start doing physical activities because of the benefits it has when it comes to both your body and dementia symptoms. Instead, consult a doctor first and then a fitness professional that specialises in or has knowledge about conditions like dementia.
Understanding the benefits of exercise
There are many fantastic benefits to exercise when it comes to not just your overall health, but also your dementia.
For starters, regular exercise can improve your heart health and your blood vessels. This means that oxygen is carried around the body more easily, providing you with more oxygen and a reduced risk of high blood pressure and heart diseases. As you slowly exercise and gradually exert more physical force, you’ll start to build a healthier heart that can be pushed more and more for even further benefits.
You also reduce the risk of certain cancers such as breast and colon cancer. Exercise can also help protect you against the possibility of stroke and also type 2 diabetes. Osteoporosis (a bone-affecting disease that makes them brittle and weak) can also be avoided with regular physical activity.
Physical exercise will primarily help you build more strength and also maintain your muscles. Your flexibility will also be improved which means that your joints will work better. This gives you a bit more manoeuvrability which means you can perform tasks more efficiently and independently. From getting dressed yourself to lifting yourself out of the bath, these tasks are easier to perform with a stronger and more flexible body. More independence is never a bad thing especially if you want to regain more control over your life and not become too dependent on those around you.
Exercise will also help you work up an appetite in order to fuel your physical activity. This means that you’ll likely stick to a better meal plan with improved nutrition and eat more regular meals to keep your body healthy. This results in more energy to help you through the day and a healthier body thanks to better nutrition. If you’re having trouble getting to sleep at night, then expending more energy throughout the day can also help your body rest easily at night.
In addition to the physical benefits, we also have to talk about the mental benefits of exercise. One of the most life-changing benefits to expect from regular exercise is improved cognitive abilities. As many dementia-related symptoms stem from mental issues, improving your cognition can help to slow down your mental decline and also improve your memory. This means that you’ll be less forgetful and your mind will be more active, resulting in a healthier mental state that will improve your mood, self-esteem and confidence.
Lastly, we can also talk about the secondary benefits that aren’t necessarily linked directly to exercise. For instance, attending group meetings for exercise means that you’ll have more opportunities to meet people and talk with them. This helps to avoid feelings of isolation and regular interactions can help improve your confidence, self-esteem and even your mood. This can eventually lead to making more friends, having more reliable individuals to trust for safety purposes and also improves your social skills.
As you can see, physical activity has many primary benefits as well as secondary benefits that happen indirectly. Whether it’s your body’s physical state, mental health or even how you interact with others in the world, there are countless positive benefits that will help you improve your wellbeing and allow you to cope more easily with your dementia.
How do you get started with physical activity with dementia?
For starters, it’s important to visit a medical professional for some healthcare advice before you get started. Physical activity is a fantastic way to get healthier and there are many positive benefits, but you need to ensure that your body is capable of handling any physical stress that you plan to put it through.
This is especially important if it’s been a long time since you’ve participated in any kind of physical activity. If it’s simply because you’ve not paid attention to your physical health and thus didn’t do any exercise, then it’s best to start slow with a couple of basic exercises to help you get started. However, if you never exercised before due to a physical problem with your health, then you will need to consult a doctor to see what methods there are to help you get back on track so that you can start getting healthier again.
Conditions such as previous heart problems, high blood pressure or breathing issues can harm the effectiveness of your exercise. If you’re already getting dizzy and lightheaded from just walking more often or stretching, then it’s likely that you will need professional advice before you’re able to exercise more regularly. Physical conditions like bone and joint problems or balance issues may also get in the way of the physical activities that you plan to participate in. While these conditions shouldn’t stop you from completely doing any physical activities, they are important considerations and you absolutely need to speak to a professional before you end up overworking your body.
One way of ensuring that you’re in safe hands when exercising is to join a group. If you speak to your doctor then you’ll likely get recommendations on where to look for a local fitness group that is designed for those with dementia or challenging physical conditions that need more attention and care. You ideally don’t want to work with a personal trainer unless they’ve worked with people that have your conditions in the past. There’s also the option of following instructions or guides on the internet that are designed for light exercise with people that have dementia. However, we’d always suggest that you join a group session because there are more people to help you in the event that you experience a problem. Joining groups also helps you take advantage of the social aspect of exercise and gives you a place to communicate with others.
Getting started with physical activity if you have dementia typically involves speaking to your doctor to ensure that you’re capable of doing it without any issues, and also learning what potential risks are involved. However, the great thing to know is that as you gradually improve your body, you’ll find that you’ll be filled with energy, positive vibes and also a positive attitude. You’ll find that there are plenty of opportunities for you to use physical activity to also speak with others and engage in more social situations, and it will help you appreciate your body more so that you’ll start to care more about your nutritional intake.
Lighter exercise options for people with dementia
Perhaps you’re content with your social situation and have neighbours, friends and family members that help keep you from being alienated. Maybe you prefer not to join a group for exercise and would like to do something in private at home instead with your home carer or the occasional activity just to help ease you into more physical activity. Thankfully, there are also many lighter exercise options that don’t require you to attend group sessions and can be performed whenever you want.
A great example of this would be gardening. Gardening is a physical activity that can be performed in your own home and, in most cases, you won’t even realise that it’s a physical activity because you’ve got something else to focus on. You won’t just be looking at how many calories you’re burning or how much you’re sweating, but instead, you’ll focus on getting your garden sorted out, cleaned and growing beautifully. Gardening also has the advantage that it’s a great hobby that can help strengthen your mind and your body, while also improving your heart in a fun way.
For something more exotic, tai chi is a gentle Chinese martial art that mixes simple movements and breathing exercises to create a relaxing exercise experience. You shouldn’t expect to sweat it out and build muscles with tai chi, but instead, it focuses more on improving your mental health while also giving you a light workout. The western opposite to this would be yoga, a form of exercise that focuses a bit more on flexibility and weight loss than mindfulness and mental health. Ideally, you’ll want to mix the two of these to create a unique workout that will help increase your agility, flexibility, strength and mental health.
Lastly, there’s also the most basic form of physical activity we can think of; walking. Walking is often suitable for everyone, it can be a group activity, it’s free and doesn’t need a specialist to guide you, and there’s plenty of walking equipment choices that can help you should you have limited mobility. Group walks are a great way to enjoy a bit of light physical activity with your family or your dementia home carer, and it can be incorporated into anyone’s day. For instance, you could tell yourself that you’ll walk to the store a couple more times a day to pick up groceries, or you could walk around for longer with your dog. Walking can be combined with social activities and easily incorporated into your everyday commitments, making it one of the best choices for light physical activity.
Some final words
As you can see, exercise comes with many benefits for people with dementia, and it’s also very simple to take advantage as long as you’re careful about your limitations and physical abilities. We always recommend speaking to your dementia carer or a doctor before doing any kind of exercise for the purpose of getting healthier, but light activity such as walking or gardening are absolutely fine as long as you take care of your health and have someone to watch over you such as a carer or family members.