8 Exercises for Dementia Patients to Stay Physically Fit

Staying active is essential for your loved one with dementia to lead an enriching and fulfilling life. Exercise is an exceptional way to ensure that they are in their peak mental and physical health, but there are some precautions to take while planning out an exercise routine.

Let’s look at the benefits of exercise for dementia patients, how to keep them safe while exercising, how often they should be exercising, and what specific exercises are particularly beneficial to them. 

Benefits of Exercise for People With Dementia

Staying active provides a myriad of benefits for people with dementia. 

Improved Sleep

For those with dementia, sundown syndrome can be a common obstacle to a good night’s sleep. Sundown syndrome occurs when, as the sun goes down, their restlessness, irritation, and confusion start to worsen.

When your loved one with dementia is getting routine exercise, it can help improve their sleep.

Better Overall Fitness

Regular exercise for dementia patients increases blood flow to the brain, which can reduce the risk of cognitive decline. It also can reduce the risk of osteoporosis and falls, while improving skills associated with cognitive function, as well as heart health. 

Greater Self-Esteem

No matter what age or condition, everyone likes to feel confident in themselves. Regular exercise helps to stay in shape, feel more active, and stay social, all of which are helpful to self-esteem. 

Reduced Depression And Social Isolation

Exercise has long been associated with reducing depression, but it also can help ease social isolation, as well. Exercise routines can easily include group activities that will keep your loved one social and avoid the harm of isolation. 

Exercise Frequency, Duration, and Safety Tips

The frequency and duration of exercise can depend heavily on your loved one and their health, tolerance, and personality.

It’s generally recommended that exercise is incorporated into their daily routine for five days a week and 30 minutes a day. These 30 minutes could be broken down into three 10-minute sessions or done all at once.

It’s essential to keep in mind, though, that not everyone will be able to do this right away. Depending on the person, it may be best to start at two minutes a day and work their way up. Make sure that you gauge their comfort levels and adjust accordingly.  

Exercise Safety Precautions

When you start an exercise program for someone you love with dementia, it’s important to keep a couple of things in mind for their safety and comfort: 

  • Speak with their doctor about exercises that are safe and effective for their stage in the condition.
  • When outdoors, ensure that they are wearing a medical alert bracelet and identification in case they get lost.
  • Protect their skin while outdoors with clothing, hats, and sunscreen on any exposed skin.
  • Make sure that they stay hydrated before, during, and after the exercises.
  • Keep talking to them during the exercise to monitor how comfortable they are in their aerobic state.
  • If they start to feel dizzy or faint, stop the activity and talk to their doctor.
  • Join in with them to make them more comfortable and provide a lot of encouragement.

8 Best Exercises for Dementia Patients

Exercise in any form is extremely beneficial to your loved one with dementia.

These are some popular forms of exercise that provide benefits in different areas of their health and are suited for people with dementia because they are not overly demanding and are easy to follow. 

Strength Exercises

1. Overhead Press

For this exercise, your loved one can use whatever is convenient as very light weights. For example, soup cans are an excellent option.

For an overhead press, your loved one starts in a standing position and holds the soup cans above their shoulders. Next, they lower into a squat position that is safe and comfortable for them and then return to a standing position while lifting their arms again.

If this is too much, they can perform this exercise without the squats and while sitting in a chair. 

2. Shoulder Raise

To perform a shoulder raise, your loved one should hold the soup cans and lift them upward until straight in front of their shoulders. Then, they lower them back to their hips. This can be repeated eight to 10 times.

This exercise can also be done without any weights or in a seated position if it is too strenuous. 

Flexibility Exercises

1. Hamstring Stretch

For the hamstring stretch, your loved one should gently bend over while standing with their knees slightly bent. They can stay in this position for as long as they are comfortable and gradually increase the duration, as well as how much they lean forward.

For an easier version of this stretch, they can sit in a chair and extend one leg out. Then, they should lean forward slightly until they feel a stretch in their hamstring. 

2. Side Stretch

To perform a side stretch, your loved one can stand or sit cross-legged and then extend their right arm to the ceiling while touching the floor with their left hand. They should then alternate leaning over to each side for a stretch down the side of the body. 

Balance Exercises

1. Weight Shifts

For this exercise, stand with feet hip-width apart, and then shift to the right and lift their left foot off the ground. This position should be held for up to 30 seconds if possible and then repeated in the other direction.

For easier exercise, they can shorten the duration of their foot being off the ground and not lift it as far up.

2. Tai Chi

Tai chi is generally performed in a class that is led by someone who is versed in the practice. It’s a great way to promote balance and social interaction. 

If your loved one struggles in class, it’s always a great idea to join them for support. 

Endurance Exercises

1. Dancing

Dancing of any kind is an excellent endurance exercise, whether it be salsa, the waltz, or line dancing. Find music that your loved one enjoys listening to and they can either dance on their own, with a video for instruction, or join a class.

There are many seated dancing classes available, as well, if dancing while standing is too draining for your loved one. 

2. Walking

One of the most relaxing and low-key exercises is going for a walk. It offers a gentle way to increase their heart rate, build endurance, and an opportunity to get outside for some fresh air. 

How Terra Vista Helps Our Residents Stay Active

At Terra Vista, your loved one’s health and safety are our top priority. That’s why we have programs specifically designed to allow our residents to enjoy the benefits of regular, enriching exercise while ensuring that they stay safe while they do it.

We have an expansive Innerwalk™ that is over 18,000 square feet and boasts beautiful gardens, walking pathways, and activities, like gardening, that your loved one can enjoy. The space was created with the safety of our residents with dementia in mind.

We also provide enriching activities that promote staying active, like: 

  • Garden club
  • Yoga therapy
  • Weekly day trip outings
  • Art therapy
  • Music therapy
  • Pet therapy
  • Bell choir

When your loved one stays with us, they’re a part of our family, and we are utterly committed to providing them with the very best care, environment, and activities.

If you’re interested in learning more about our memory care center, call us at 630-793-0753, or contact us online.

Natalie Pic

Meet the Author


Natalie has compiled over eighteen years experience providing outstanding care to people with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. In addition to being a certified Alzheimer’s and dementia care trainer, McFarland is a licensed continued education instructor for nurses and social workers through the Illinois Department of Professional Regulations. She has also developed several Alzheimer’s research partnerships. Included in those projects were Dr. Virginia Cruz, Ph.D., RN, Associate Professor of SIUE and Dr. George Grossberg, M.D., Medical Director of the Department of Psychiatry and Neurology at Saint Louis University. Natalie is a graduate of Southern Illinois University.