Of course, the exercise benefits of a nice walk, time spent in the garden, or a good game of bean bag toss in the lawn are a great way to increase physical activity during the summer months. Gardening, raking, picking up sticks, or sweeping a sidewalk are all great ways to soak up some sun, get some physical activity AND find purpose and engagement all at the same time! These outdoor tasks are an excellent choice of activity because they involve large muscle motor movement with familiar motions, many of which are embedded in the “muscle memory”.

Muscle memory, or motor memory, is a type of procedural memory that involves consolidating a specific motor task into memory through repetition. Repeating a task in the same way over time creates a physical “memory” of how to complete that task. Our muscles often remember what the mind cannot. So the motions of raking, sweeping or gardening are often movements that come quite naturally, even for a person whose dementia has progressed to the mid or later stages. This concept of muscle memory also applies to more complex motor movements, such as swinging a golf club or tossing a horseshoe. Those who were avid participants in these activities throughout their life can often step right back in to certain aspects of their sport, retaining their form, just as a long time musician can often sit down to the piano and play a familiar tune with ease. Thus these activities can create those “moments of joy” that come through success and a rekindling of purpose and competence.

The sunshine and fresh air have the additional benefit of improving appetite and sleep. As we are more physically active, our bodies simply function at a higher level. This is as true for those with memory loss as it is for the general population. Not only are they more physically tired from the energy they have used, they are also more relaxed and at ease when they return indoors.

Other specific benefits of regular exercise for people with Alzheimer’s disease include:

  • Improved mood
  • Better sleep
  • Reduced likelihood of constipation
  • Maintenance of motor skills
  • Reduced risk of falls because of improved strength and balance
  • Reduced rate of disease-associated mental decline
  • Improved memory
  • Improved behavior, such as reduced rate of wandering, swearing and acting aggressively
  • Better communication and social skills.

So, whether your loved one tends to gravitate toward the patio chair or if they have the desire to put on some miles on the walking paths, make your way to the great outdoors and enjoy the warmer weather. You will both be happy you did!

Submitted by Janelle Johnson, Memory Care Specialist