We all know that exercising regularly is good for our bodies, but did you know it can also support brain health? Back in 2013, the Ontario Brain Institute (OBI) put together a panel of experts to explore the relationship between physical activity and Alzheimer’s disease. The resulting report found that people who are more active when they’re over the age of 65 are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease — by about 40%. For individuals already diagnosed with the disease, physical activity can positively impact the overall quality of life by improving mood and increasing independence.
As a result of these findings, OBI – in partnership with the Alzheimer Society of Ontario; the Alzheimer Society of Brant, Haldimand Norfolk, Hamilton Halton; ParticipACTION; McMaster University and the Physical Activity Centre of Excellence; the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology; Western’s Canadian Centre for Activity and Aging; and the Active Living Coalition for Older Adults – recently introduced the Physical Activity and Alzheimer’s Disease Toolkit.
The toolkit contains both an information pamphlet and a physical activity calendar. The pamphlet highlights three different but equally important areas of physical activity: aerobics (cardio), strength training, and balance. Each category comes with examples. For instance, brisk walking, going for a hike, and cross-country skiing are all forms of aerobic exercise – anything that gets the heart rate up. Using resistance bands in your exercise routine can be an excellent way to strengthen muscles, and tai chi and yoga help with balance.
“We wanted to move away from the idea of physical activity as going to the gym for an hour and doing high intensity workouts,” says Tiffany Scarcelli, who was involved with the creation of the toolkit. “Although that kind of exercise is beneficial, it can be daunting for someone over the age of 65 who is currently inactive. This toolkit shows them that there are other ways to be physically active.” The most important thing is that seniors get up and move for at least 30 minutes every day: doing some light housework, taking the stairs, playing with grandchildren…. it all adds up!
The bright, user-friendly and motivational calendar contains a weekly planner that you can fill in yourself. The calendar also offers suggestions of activities you can do if your plans are interrupted. If it’s raining outside, for example, try exercising indoors or go for a swim. You get to decide what you want to do and when, which can be especially empowering for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease.
A lot of the activities mentioned in the toolkit can be done with a caregiver or in social settings. As part of her work with the Alzheimer Society, Tiffany is involved in a physical activity and brain stimulation program called Minds in Motion. “The program pairs participants with their caregivers, which is great. They both exercise, while engaging in meaningful social interactions. The program runs once a week, for 8 weeks, in a community-based program centre. The 2-hour program offers gentle and easy-to-follow physical activities, and fun social activities focused on building personal skills in a very friendly setting.” Physical activity also offers the bonus of reducing stress and depression for caregivers.
So what are you waiting for? Tie up those shoelaces and get moving!
Minds in Motion [www.mindsinmotion.ca] is currently available in six different sites: Hamilton Halton,Grey-Bruce, Sudbury Manitoulin, Thunder Bay, Waterloo Wellington, and London Middlesex. Copies of the toolkit can be picked up through a Minds in Motion site, or at your local Alzheimer Society.
Hannele Kivinen, Caregiver Exchange