Exercise and Alzheimer’s: Can Staying Fit Protect Cognitive Health?

Sunrise Senior Living  |  February 26, 2021

We often think of exercise as a way to ward off medical problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, and even depression. But researchers say that physical activity may also help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Brain health is a complicated topic. While most of the science surrounding Alzheimer’s is still unclear, there is evidence that links cognitive health with a person’s overall wellness. According to Harvard Medical School, adopting a healthy lifestyle is essential to preventing or delaying Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers from the Alzheimer’s Research Foundation, believe the most effective way to reduce one’s risk of Alzheimer’s is to practice a brain-healthy lifestyle. In other words, eating well, exercising, getting quality sleep, and stimulating your mind. Of these, physical fitness activities take center stage. In fact, studies show that you can reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s by up to 50% with regular exercise.

Exercise and Alzheimer’s Prevention

If your goal is to protect your cognitive health, how much exercise do you need and how often? While your primary care physician is the best person to answer that question, there are a few general guidelines seniors may find helpful:

  • Cardio plus strength: Create an exercise regime that incorporates both moderate aerobic activity with strength training. It’s a combination that not only helps protect brain health, but also reduces your risk for falls and increases flexibility and endurance.
  • 150 minutes a week: Set a goal to engage in fitness activities 150 minutes each week. For many, a realistic schedule is to exercise 30 minutes, 5 days a week. It might be a 15-minute session of chair yoga in the morning, and 15 minutes spent cycling on a recumbent bike or marching in place during your favorite television show.
  • Track progress: Hold yourself accountable. At the end of each day, document what type of physical activity you engaged in and how much. It can be as easy as writing it on a calendar you display on the refrigerator.

Senior-Friendly Indoor Fitness Activities

Between the COVID-19 pandemic and the winter weather, many older adults are staying close to home. Finding exercises you can safely do at home is the key. For many, sticking with a fitness program means finding activities you enjoy and changing up your routine to prevent boredom.

We have some exercise ideas you might find useful this winter:

  • Virtual Yoga: This popular form of exercise improves strength, flexibility, endurance, and balance. It can also help reduce stress. For isolated seniors, that’s another plus. Yoga with Adrienne is a good one to explore on You Tube. She offers free classes on a variety of yoga topics ranging from Yoga at Your Desk to Chair Yoga for Seniors.
  • Walking: Weather and personal health permitting, a brisk stroll around your neighborhood each day contributes to better mental and physical health. It also gives you time to soak up some fresh air and sunshine. Talk with your doctor first if you’ve been leading a sedentary life. They can make recommendations on how much walking is good to start with and what your ultimate goal should be. The Health In Aging Foundation has a tip sheet for seniors who are starting a walking program.
  • Strength training: Maintaining muscle strength is another key component of a comprehensive senior fitness program. In addition to protecting brain health and reducing the risk of falls, strength training prevents bone loss. This online strength training guide from Silver Sneakers walks you through a variety of exercises you can do at home using bands or your own body as resistance.

For more ideas on how to stay fit while staying close to home, visit Safe Winter Fitness Ideas for Older Adults. If you have questions about how Sunrise Senior Living promotes a healthy lifestyle for residents, call the Sunrise community nearest you!

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