Is it safe for people with dementia to exercise?

4 October 2019
By Stephen Wiblin, Head of Clinical and Strategy & Development


Exercise for people with dementia

As an aged care provider, we are often asked if it’s safe for the elderly to exercise, especially people living with dementia.

The simple answer is that we must all support active ageing.

Many are interested to learn that, not only is it safe but exercise can provide a plethora of benefits, with studies indicating physical inactivity is a potential risk factor for dementia, among other ailments.

While more information is being collected on the benefits of physical activity and exercise for dementia risk reduction, we, as an industry are still in the early stages of understanding the impact of exercise for people living with dementia. What we do know is that it is important for people living with dementia to remain physically active in order to maintain their physical health and reduce their risk of falls. Additionally, exercise can help to reduce the severity of behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia, all of which enable a person living with dementia to remain in their home for longer and avoid unnecessary hospitalisations.

A recent study has reported that the physical benefits of being physically active and participating in exercise experienced by carers and people living dementia made them feel stronger, have better coordination and balance, and generally gave them a general sense of health and wellbeing.

What is physical activity and why is it important?

The Australian National Guidelines for Physical Activity recommend at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day for older people, aged over 65, in order to maintain physical and mental wellbeing.

There are two different classifications of activity:

Physical activity is one of the most important steps in increasing and maintaining physical and mental wellbeing and quality of life for older people. It is important for the prevention and management of chronic diseases and has the potential to reduce physical decline, maintain functional ability, reduce the risk of falls and prevent injuries.

While there are already a multitude of barriers for the elderly participating in physical activity, such as cultural issues, environmental factors, stress and lack of time, people living with dementia face additional barriers including stigma, negative attitudes about capability and an aversion to risk for those in a care environment.

From what we know, it is imperative that our aged, and further, our aged with dementia, remain physically active, which is why we all need to do out part to help enable and encourage them to do so.

How exercise can help people with dementia

Generally speaking, low levels of physical activity are a major risk factor for ill health and mortality. People who are not sufficiently physically active have a greater risk of cardiovascular disease, colon and breast cancers, Type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis.

Being physically active can help people living with dementia manage pain, reduce sleep disturbances and falls, as well as minimise agitation.

People living with dementia should be encouraged and supported to continue with any exercise and physical activity they were doing before their diagnosis. For those who have been inactive, the earlier an exercise program can be incorporated into their  lifestyle in the early stages of dementia, the more likely it is to be maintained as dementia progresses. In the moderate to late stages of dementia, support and encouragement from family and service providers is important to ensure that people living with dementia remain physically active. 

The government’s national physical activity five top tips to remain active:

  1. Be active everyday in as many ways as you can.
  2. Think of movement as an opportunity, not an inconvenience.
  3. Incorporate movement and activity into your normal daily routine.
  4. Be active with a friend or family member.
  5. Choose activities you enjoy.
  6. If you can, enjoy regular vigorous exercise for extra health and fitness.

You can access the guidelines here.

For Allity residents, providing choice in exercise programs is an integral part of every Home's Lifestyle Activity calendar. For more information, simply contact the Lifestyle Services Team.

Related articles

Dementia Australia: Dementia and exercise help sheet

Dementia Australia: The benefits of physical activity and exercise for people living with dementia

Department of Health: Choose Health: Be Active: A physical activity guide for older Australians

Department of Health: Tips and ideas for older Australians


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