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4.2 Exercise to boost your physical health

Exercise can improve or maintain daily function for people with dementia.

Aerobic exercise

When people think about exercise, they often think of aerobic exercise. These are exercises that raise your heart rate and get you breathing heavy. Jogging, swimming, cycling, and brisk walking are all examples of aerobic or cardiovascular exercises.  

Aerobic exercise has been shown to maintain or improve memory and thinking, and in some studies, the daily function of people with dementia. Aerobic exercise also benefits mood, sleep quality, and physical health. There is evidence that anaerobic exercises, such as weights or resistance training, may be good or even better for the brain, see below.  

The Canadian 24-hour movement guidelines suggest that older adults perform a variety of types and intensities of physical activity which includes: 

  • Moderate to vigorous aerobic physical activities that total at least 150 minutes per week 
  • Muscle strengthening activities using major muscle groups (e.g., arms, legs, chest, shoulders) at least twice a week 
  • Physical activities that challenge balance  
  • Several hours of light physical activities, including standing  

Link to guidelines: For adults aged 18-64 

Link to guidelines: For adults aged 65 years and older

Link to exercises to improve balance

Strength training

Strength training or resistance training involves exercises that increase the strength of your muscles. Strength-based exercises include lifting weights, using exercise bands, or lifting your own bodyweight. Some studies suggest that combining aerobic exercise with strength training produces better results than aerobic exercise alone.  

If you haven’t done strength training before, you might want to see a physiotherapist, athletic therapist, or personal trainer before you begin. They will assess your abilities and develop a program that suits your current fitness level. You may have to pay privately for these services, and the best way to find someone suitable is to ask for a recommendation from your doctor, another health provider, or a friend. Exercise classes for older adults may also include some strength training. 

Start slow and build up gradually

If you don’t currently do much exercise, start slowly. Start by doing a 15 minute walk a few times each week. Then build up to walking for longer and more often. 

Try to do exercises that you enjoy, as you’re much more likely to continue on with it. Many people prefer to exercise with others. You might join a movement class for older adults, play golf (more benefits if you walk rather than driving in a golf cart), or set up a regular walking date with a friend. 

If you have any health conditions, talk to your doctor before starting to exercise for advice about what’s safe for you to do. If you ever feel faint, dizzy, or pain, stop immediately and reach out to your doctor. 

Make exercise a part of your weekly routine. 

Exercise as part of everyday activities

Some people like to incorporate exercise into their daily routine. You might choose to walk up the stairs rather than take an elevator, walk rather than drive to the store, vacuum or garden 

Older woman exercising

Get Active

  • Review the Canadian 24 hour movement guidelines.
  • Perform a variety of types and intensities of physical activity.