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Exercise and dementia

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approaches to dementia care, exercise

People have lots of reasons for doing exercise. Some people want to lose weight, some people want to gain weight. Moderate exercise could be very important for people with dementia.

Exercise, and any form of physical activity, can also improve a person’s mood, self-esteem and opportunities for social interaction (Sharma, Madaan and Petty 2006). This is because exercise releases hormones which make a person feel happy. Exercise improves the function of your heart and lungs which in turn improves the health of your brain.

In fact, exercise might even stimulate 'neurogenesis': this is when parts of your brain are renewed. Scientists in Canada have found that regular exercise can increase the size of areas of the brain that is involved with memory and learning (Lourenco et al 2019). This happens because more energy is sent to the brain during exercise which means that the brain has more energy to go about everything it needs to do.

However, a group of scientists from the University of Oxford have argued that exercise is bad for people with dementia. They found that there were a small decrease in scores on the Alzheimer’s disease Assessment Scale in people who did exercise when compared to those who did no exercise (Lamb et al 2018). These differences were explained as being possible to be due to several things other than exercise. Scientists haven’t determined that exercise is bad for you. There is more evidence for moderate exercise having positive effects in people with dementia.

A list of appropriate exercises for people with dementia is available from Alzheimer’s Society; this list includes walking, gardening and dancing. The Department of Health recommends 150 minutes of ‘moderately strenuous physical activity’ per week. This means 30 minutes of activity per day, five days of a week. This can be broken up into shorter sessions throughout the day, with each session lasting a minimum of 10 minutes. For example, it could be a 15-minute walk to the local shops in the morning, and then housework or gardening tasks in the afternoon.

If you’re worried about anything that could affect your health, please be sure to consult a medical professional. If you do want to start exercising, make it fun and social by doing it with friends, family or carers.



Lamb, S. E., Sheehan, B., Atherton, N., Nichols, V., Collins, H., Mistry, D., Dosanjh, S., Slowther, A. M., Khan, I., Petrou, S., Lall, R., DAPA Trial Investigators (2018). Dementia And Physical Activity (DAPA) trial of moderate to high intensity exercise training for people with dementia: randomised controlled trial. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 361, k1675. doi:10.1136/bmj.k1675

Lourenco, M. V, Frozza, R. L., de Freitas, G. B., Zhang, H., Kincheski, G. C., Ribeiro, F. C., … De Felice, F. G. (2019). Exercise-linked FNDC5/irisin rescues synaptic plasticity and memory defects in Alzheimer’s models. Nature Medicine, 25(1), 165–175. doi.org/10.1038/s41591-018-0275-4

Sharma, A., Madaan, V., & Petty, F. D. (2006). Exercise for mental health. Primary care companion to the Journal of clinical psychiatry, 8(2), 106. doi.org/ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1470658/


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Karen Harrison Dening

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