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Maintaining Cognitive Health through Physical Activity

A physically active lifestyle is linked to brain health. This is especially important with aging populations who are already dealing with stress and isolation due to COVID-19.

According to a 2019 WHO report RISK REDUCTION OF COGNITIVE DECLINE AND DEMENTIA, 'Dementia is a rapidly growing public health problem affecting around 50 million people around the world. There are nearly 10 million new cases every year and this figure is set to triple by 2050.'

In large studies, physical activity in older adults has been shown to reduce the likelihood of cognitive decline and dementias including vascular, Lewy Body dementia, vascular dementia and Alzheimer disease, when compared with inactive people. (Gallaway et al., 2017; Hamer & Chida, 2009; Sofi et al., 2011; Stephen et al., 2017).

So how do we maintain physical activity for ourselves, or help older friends or relatives currently sheltering at home engage in physical activity while also remaining safe?

Depending on the local jurisdiction, many shelter in place guidelines allow for outdoor physical activity under certain circumstances - such as maintaining proper distance, individual activity or groups of no more than two - be sure to check with local regulations before heading out. And the same safety guidelines remain in place - if taking public elevators or walking through public shared spaces, maintain distance, do not touch buttons or door handles with your bare hands, wash with soap and water and use hand sanitizer.

Once you are out in the open, try to maintain at least six feet distance from other walkers, runners or bikers - even more is better. Upon returning home it is advised to wash hands well with soap and water and change and wash the clothes you wore outside.

What if you cannot go out, are elderly or at high risk? There are still many ways to remain physically active in your home, even without official equipment. I found a pair of asparagus glass jars that make the perfect repetitive hand weights. Here are some low impact exercises that can be incorporated at home. If your parents or elderly relatives are sheltered in place, you can share these with them, and Facetime your exercise routines!

Upper arms - repetitive motions can help build and maintain muscle. You can use jars or cans or even just your own body. Here are some amazingly easy exercises to do at home:

Legs - there are also a number of leg exercises that need no equipment. These can be adapted or simplified for those with limited mobility:

Most phones have a step tracker app that you can use as well. For elderly relatives see if you can help them set up a schedule for them to walk around the house and track steps each day. Taking the stairs as they are able is also a wonderful way to get exercise.

In times of stress it is all too easy to find some comfort food and turn on a favourite show, but the more we can maintain our health and fitness now,

the better we will be when this is all over!

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