GETTING YOUR EXERCISE
For years, you’ve heard about the virtues of regular exercise—how it maintains weight, staves off cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other illnesses, and helps maintain muscle strength and aerobic capacity. Research suggests that exercise also has protective benefits for the brain and can help stave off problems such as dementia.
Having Alzheimer’s should not mean the end of doing physical activity. In fact, getting your exercise is as important as ever. Regular exercise helps keep muscles strong, promotes better sleep, and can eliminate a bad mood. It may also help lower stress and decrease anxiety. In addition, exercise improves oxygen flow, which can benefit brain cells. And while exercise may not necessarily slow the progression of Alzheimer’s, it may help reduce the physical disabilities associated with the disease in later stages.
Among the most interesting studies to support the benefits of exercise in patients with Alzheimer’s was one done in Seattle by researchers at the University of Washington. The study, which was published in the. Journal of the American Medical Association in 2003, looked at the impact of a caregiver-lead exercise program on patients with Alzheimer’s and compared it to a group of patients who did not participate in the exercise training.
The study found that patients who were in the exercise program were three times more likely to exercise at least an hour a week and had two-thirds fewer days of restricted activity than those who did not receive the training. Over the next two years, the physical ability of those in the exercise program improved, while those in the other group experienced a deterioration in their abilities.
Those who exercised were also less likely to be institutionalized—only 19 percent were placed in nursing homes during the study period compared to fifty percent in the non-exercise group. The authors noted that “improved physical conditioning for patients with Alzheimer’s disease may extend their independent mobility and enhance their quality of life despite progression of the disease.”
ACTIVITIES YOU CAN DO
The exercise you choose to do doesn’t need to be overly strenuous or push you to the brink of exhaustion. It should be just enough to keep you flexible, strong, and to get your heart pumping ever so slightly. It should also be an activity that suits your fitness level and sustains your interest. Exercises that cause injury or bore you are not likely to become a part of your daily routine.
The type of exercises you do will depend largely on the shape you’re in and what you were doing before you were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Among the best is walking. It’s easy to do, requires no special equipment beyond a pair of good walking shoes, and doesn’t require that you go anywhere special. You can simply don a pair of sneakers and head outdoors for a walk.
It’s also the least likely exercise to cause injury. You can adapt your walks to suit your fitness level, too. For instance, as you build your stamina, you might consider taking longer walks, going up more hills, or walking faster. And if you choose to walk with a companion or a walking club, you can also savor the social aspects of a good walk. In bad weather, consider walking in a mall or using a treadmill.
But don’t feel limited to just taking walks. Other good exercises for people with Alzheimer’s include gardening, swimming, water aerobics, and yoga. You may also consider doing tai chi, an ancient Chinese martial art that involves a series of gentle movements and breathing techniques. In one study of adults in later stages of Alzheimer’s, researchers found that patients were able to slow the decline of their functional abilities by doing a combination of physical therapy and tai chi, The movements in tai chi are designed to facilitate the flow of energy in your body, but also can create a calming effect and reduce stress.
No matter what you decide to do, the goal is to stay as active as you can for as long as you can. Before starting any exercise program, check with your doctor first and get recommendations about the types of activities you can do and those you should avoid.
When you do start your exercise program, always begin with a gende warmup and end with a cooldown. Exercise in a safe environment and avoid places with bad lighting, slippery floors, throw rugs, uneven roads, and any other place that could cause you to get hurt. If you have difficulties maintaining balance, exercise near a bar or rail. If standing is difficult, sdck with floor exercises. Always discontinue your routine if you experience pain or don’t feel well.