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Walk away from dementia – exercise, your heart and your head.


The benefits of ‘exercise for all’ are often trumpeted as a solution for obesity, depression and other ills of our day.  What relevance does this have for older people, particularly those needing care?


Recent research has shown that lifestyle habits that are good for the heart – diet and exercise – are good for mental health as well.   Regular exercise can help protect against the development of Alzheimer’s and other dementias. 


Studies involving over 2000 people over 60 years old in USA and Italy indicate that those who regularly walked, or took other forms of moderate exercise, were less likely to develop dementia over the next four years.  We still don’t know what causes dementia, nor is there any proven cure, but these new studies (published in Neurology) build on existing evidence that lifestyle habits are important in dementia risk.  Evidence already suggests that a person’s education, occupation, social activity and mental stimulation also play a big role in preventing failing mental powers.  We don’t know if there is a direct link between exercise and mental powers, but mental and physical exercise have been found to boost the mood of depressed patients and improve memory in old age.


What exercise is suitable for older people?
I can’t imagine a crowd of older people jumping round a gym to dance music.  Firstly, ‘exercise’ whether performed alone or in a group, doesn’t have to be a strenuous workout or ‘pumping iron’.  It can comprise walking, stretching or gentle dance type movements.  Care home staff can be trained to supervise the most suitable forms of exercise for the elderly. This can aid general health, help mobility and make falls less likely. 


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