More Resources

Diet and exercise in Alzheimer’s Video (approx. 17 min.)
Carl W. Cotman, Ph.D., explains how a diet rich in antioxidants and regular exercise may benefit the brain.
This video is part of the “THE ALZHEIMER’S PROJECT,” a presentation of HBO Documentary Films and the National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health in association with the Alzheimer’s Association, The Fidelity® Charitable Gift Fund and Geoffrey Beene Gives Back® Alzheimer’s Initiative.

Benefits of Physical Exercise

While it is not yet known what causes Dementia or Alzheimer’s we have come a long way in understanding the disease. There is substantial evidence that shows how exercise can contribute to a reduced risk of developing the disease, slowing its progression, and increasing quality of life while living with cognitive impairment (Shankle and Amen 2004). An article in New Science Health cites several studies that show a risk reduction of 40% for those who exercised at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week. The studies found that in sample groups ranging from 1,000 to 2,020 people the development of plaque on the brain was significantly reduced which also reduced the risk of stroke (Vince 2006). An examination of peer reviewed publications between 1970 and 2003 found that exercise training increased fitness, physical and cognitive function, and positive behavior in people with dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Both the Alzheimer’s Society and Alzheimer’s Association cite the benefits of physical exercise at any stage of dementia to slow progression (Alzheimer’s Association a. 2012; Alzheimer’s Society 2012). At early onset and mid-stages activities like tai chi, gardening, dancing, swimming, walking and general housework for at least 30 minutes five days a week has contributed to reduced progression. For those in later stages activities like walking from room to room, changing from seated to standing positions, stretching and other movements both independent and guided, which promote balance, muscle strength have slowed progression and contributed to a better quality of life. Researchers from the Helsinki University Central Hospital in Finland state that physical intervention and rehabilitation enhances mobility and when done over long periods of time can improve physical and cognitive functioning in patients with dementia (Pitkala, K. et al. 2012).

Physical exercise does not have to be rigorous and current health conditions and needs should be addressed before starting a program, but when done regularly with a healthy diet, mental activities and social interactions patients see positive results (Alzheimer’s Association a. 2012). The Alzheimer’s Society discusses exercise as a means to improve the quality of life for people at all stages of dementia. They highlight several benefits including:

  • Increased cardiovascular health that can lower the risk of cancer, stroke and type 2 diabetes that are positively linked to the development of dementia.
  • Improving joint flexibility and muscle strength to increase independence and reduce fall risks.
  • Improved cognition, memory and ability to sleep.
  • Increased social interaction, which reduces isolation and depression while building confidence and sense of achievement.

Exercise is not just for those living with dementia or Alzheimer’s. A study done by researchers at the Stanford Center for Research in Disease Prevention shows that it can be beneficial for those who are charged for caring for a family member, friend, or client. After one year of monitored results the study showed that caregivers saw an increase in motivational readiness and a decrease in perceived stress, burden and depression after exercising three times a week for 35 minutes (Castro, C.M. et al. 2002). Exercise can preserve the health of those who live with cognitive impairments and those who care for them. Researchers at the Beckman Institute and Department of Psychology, at the University of Illinois tell us that the effect of exercise on those with dementia and Alzheimer’s exists at the molecular, cellular and behavioral level (Kramer, Ericson and Colcombe 2006). The importance of fitness and its relationship to cognition is a field of research that is quickly developing and the magnitude of its impact on our understanding is the future direction of living with and treating cognitive impairments.


If you would like more information please see the following citations and links:

Alzheimer’s Association, a. (2012) Stay Physically Active. Accessed October, 5th, 2012

Alzheimer’s Association, b. (2012) Health Care Reform and Alzheimer’s Disease. Accessed October, 5th, 2012

Alzheimer’s Society (2012) Exercise and Physical Activity for People With Dementia. Accessed October 6, 2012

Castro, C.M. et al. (2002) An Exercise Program for Women Who Are Caring for Relatives With Dementia Psychosomatic Medicine May/June 2002 vol. 64 no. 3, p. 458-468.

Kramer, A., Ericson, K. and S.Colcombe (2006) Exercise, Cognition and the Aging Brain. Journal of Applied Physiology. vol.101 no. 4, p. 1237-1242

Pitkala, K. et al. (2012) Efficacy of Physical Exercise Intervention on Mobility and Physical Functioning in Older People With Dementia: A Systematic Review. Experimental Gerontology 30 August 2012. Accessed October 6, 2012

Shankle, W. R., & Amen, D. G. (2004) Preventing Alzheimer’s: Ways to help prevent, delay, detect, and even halt Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of memory loss. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

Vince, G. (2006) Exercise Linked to Big Drop in Dementia Risk. Annals of Internal Medicine vol. 144, p 73. Accessed October 5, 2012


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