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4.2 Exercise to boost your physical health

Exercise can improve or maintain memory and ability to do daily tasks.

Aerobic exercise

Aerobic exercise has been shown to improve or maintain memory, thinking, and daily function for people with dementia. Jogging, swimming, cycling, or a fast-paced walk are examples of aerobic exercises. Aerobic exercise, sometimes called ‘cardio’ exercises are ones that raise your heart rate, and make you start to sweat. 

How much exercise should I do?

Canadian physical activity guidelines for adults over 65 years recommend doing 20-30 minutes of aerobic exercise on most, preferably all, days of the week. For all adults, another recommendation is to break up long periods of sitting as often as possible.  Recommendations for adults 18-64 are linked here. 

Start slow

  • If you don’t exercise regularly already, talk with your family doctor or nurse practitioner about starting exercising. They may suggest consulting a physiotherapist or an exercise physiologist for a program if you have existing health conditions. 
  • If you are just starting out, work up to the recommended 30 minutes. For example, if you can’t do 30 minutes walking, start with a time you can realistically achieve. You can try starting with 5 or 10 minutes once or twice a day. After 2 weeks, or once you start feeling comfortable, increase your exercise time by 5 or 10 minutes. 
  • Do you still have your tennis racket in the basement closet? Try to get out on the tennis courts just to volley the tennis ball. You don’t have to play a formal game to have fun and get some exercise.
  • Make a list of physical activities you have always wanted to try. Starting a new activity can be good for your health and your brain. Pickleball is a new racket-based activity that was developed for people of all ages and has very basic rules. Ask at your local recreation facility for more information.  

Strength training

Strength or resistance training are exercises with weights, pulleys, exercise bands, or even using your own bodyweight to provide resistance to work against. These exercises strengthen specific muscles and improve the density (or ‘hardness’) of your bones to reduce risk of injuries such as fractures. Strength training can also be incorporated into daily activity such getting up from a chair without using your arms or climbing stairs.  

If you haven’t done strength training before, you might want to see a physiotherapist or personal trainer. They will assess your abilities and develop a program suitable for you. 

Incorporating exercise into daily life

Starting exercise doesn’t necessarily mean going to a gym! You can incorporate a few exercises into everyday activities. An example is walking around the kitchen while you are waiting for your kettle to boil or for the bread to toast, instead of sitting down and waiting. Another option might be taking the stairs instead of an elevator or choosing to walk to your mailbox instead of driving. 

Associating an exercise with another activity you do every day, such as making breakfast, means you will be more likely to remember to do them. A physiotherapist or occupational therapist can suggest ways to incorporate exercise into your usual daily activities. 

Exercise can be a time you set aside just for you, or it can be a time to socialize with friends or neighbours. Many communities have exercise groups specifically designed for older people.   Find a walking group in your area by asking friends or at your local YMCA.  

Balance

We don’t tend to think much about balance exercises, but the ability to balance or recover when we are thrown ‘off balance’ reduces with age. Poorer balance means we are at a greater risk of falls and injury.   

Balance exercises involve safely challenging your ability to balance with exercises like sideways walking, heel raises and (safely) practicing finding your ‘toppling point’ – the point just before you lose your balance and increase the time you can hold this pose. Balance and strength go hand in hand. You need to work on them both. The good news is research has shown that people, even very old and frail people will improve quickly with regular practice.  

Make exercise part of your daily routine. See your family doctor or nurse practitioner before starting to exercise regularly and remember, if you feel dizzy or feel pain, stop and talk to your family doctor or nurse practitioner. 

Exercise everyday

  • Read Canada’s 24 hour movement guidelines. Perform a variety of types and intensities of physical activities.
  • You can exercise on your own or join an exercise group.