Physical activities for someone with Alzheimer's

Strength training, resistance, working on aim or coordination. Discover how to slow down cognitive decline.

If you have or take care of someone who has Alzheimer’s, you might have wondered if exercise can help in the treatment of this neurodegenerative disease. Well, the first thing you should know is exercise’s most important role is preventive, rather than therapeutic. Some studies have shown that a physically active person (exercising at least three times a week) is up to 60% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s than a sedentary person. In fact, we can see that physical inactivity is one of the most important risk factors in the development of any kind of dementia.

At the same time, exercise can play a key role in slowing the development of the illness in people at an early stage. In these cases, it is recommended to exercise at moderate intensity for at least thirty minutes, five times a week. 


It has been proven that practicing sports regularly improves blood flow in the brain by providing it with higher levels of oxygen. Physical activity improves synaptic function: the communication between the neuron cells of the brain. This helps to reduce the deterioration of these neurons. It also helps improve various brain processes related to memory.

But that’s not all: sports also decrease oxidative stress, one of the main causes of the deterioration of the nervous and neuronal systems, and helps reduce anxiety in the face of stressful situations. This helps people with Alzheimer’s to stay in control when they’re distressed.

Having said all this, you may have doubts about the type of activity which people with Alzheimer’s can actually do. In order to make things clear, we’ve created a list of exercises for you, split into resistance, strength, coordination and aiming exercises. 

-Stamina exercises 

Here we can include all low-intensity exercise that lasts at least 30 minutes. This might include walking, light jogging, swimming, cycling, hiking, boating, or even skating. 

-Strength exercises

This kind of exercise should have a defined duration, with breaks of at least two minutes between exercises. These activities require a bit of effort, but shouldn’t leave you out of breath. The aim of these exercises is to help with everyday activities, and thus reduce dependence on others.

They can be as simple as getting up and sitting down on a chair, going up and down a step, or squeezing a stress ball with one hand. Another example: with your palms facing each other, hold a ball and squeeze it, repeating the same action with your hands at different heights. Or you can rest a stretched-out arm on the wall and, using your fingers, raise it up little by little. You can also work your abdominal muscles lying on your back with your legs bent: using the same ball as before, lift it over your head until it touches your knees. 

-Co-ordination exercises 

Here we have a broad range of exercises which can be classified into exercises for “fine” and “gross” motor skills. 

Fine co-ordination exercises are those which force us to be precise in our movements and which, in general, don’t involve large muscle groups. Examples of fine co-ordination exercises include coloring with colored pencils (trying to stay within the lines), cutting out pictures, sewing and knitting, putting differently-shaped objects inside a box with holes of different sizes, origami, making bracelets or braiding, sorting coins… These activities force our brain to stay attentive and to concentrate on what we’re doing.

When it comes to “gross” co-ordination, large muscle groups are involved. This could be extending your arms and touching your nose, bouncing a ball with one or both hands, trying to keep an object like a balloon or beach ball in the air, clapping in time to music or learning a choreographed routine that involves both hands and legs. 

-Improving your aim 

Fundamentally, these are games that involve throwing an object at a target. You can mix different kinds of exercises and vary them almost infinitely, using lots of different types of objects and targets. You can throw with one or both hands, or even with your feet. The target can vary in height, size and location. You could also play with different targets, each worth a different number of points. And don’t forget all those traditional games like bowling and darts! 

With all this information, there’s no excuse not to be more active in your daily life. Above all, remember to set small, realistic goals, and to vary your exercise.    

Alzheimer's, Treatment, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Non-pharmacological treatments, Exercise, Psychological aspects, Social Life

Author: Luis Miguel Pérez, Exercise and Sports Science Graduate

Last Modification: April 12, 2017

© People Who Global, iStock.com

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