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Regular physical activity can reduce the likelihood of developing dementia. Physical activity can also help improve cognition in adults with some mild cognitive decline. Some research has also found benefits for people with fully progressed Alzheimer’s disease – in one study cardiorespiratory fitness was associated with reduced brain atrophy.

Older adults, particularly those over 55, may experience a number of barriers to exercise including cost, lack of mobility, existing chronic illness, fear of injury, intimidation, and low self-efficacy.

Recreational and community fitness centres are well positioned to help people at risk for or dealing with dementia improve their health and quality of life. Group exercise classes can be especially beneficial, as they involve social interaction. Below are five types of exercise classes that recreational facilities can offer that are great for people at risk for or in the early stages of dementia.

Restorative yoga

Restorative yoga is a lower intensity form of yoga focused on breathing, posture, and gentle movements. Yoga can improve balance and flexibility, which are both important for a group at higher risk for falls. Chair yoga is also a good alternative for people who have lost some mobility or have a lower body injury.

Functional training

Many older adults rate independence as a top priority, and its loss in older adults often results from reduced ability to perform movements required for everyday life like sitting and standing from a chair or reaching food off the top shelf. Classes and activities focused on strengthening the muscles and coordination required to perform these activities can help people stay independent longer.

Aquatic Exercise

Water’s buoyance means workouts done in the pool generate less impact on bones and joints. This makes aquatic aerobics or swimming a good option for people looking to improve aerobic fitness under lower impact conditions. Aerobic exercise can also help stimulate blood flow to the brain and help improve sleep quality.

Dance-based fitness

During dance fitness classes, participants often need to remember different steps, and in some cases, interact with a partner.  This offers participants a fun way to be physically active, build aerobic fitness, be social, and challenge the mind and memory.

Tai Chi

Tai Chi is a relaxing, low impact form of exercise that has been shown to help improve sleep quality, muscle strength, balance, and flexibility.

Recreational facilities can positively impact health and quality of life for a large number of Americans in the early stages of or at risk for dementia by creating safe, supportive spaces, a welcoming atmosphere, addressing people’s specific needs through programming, and offering knowledgeable staff to provide guidance and instruction along the way.

By Alexandra Black, Health Promotion Manager at IHRSA