In May 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched the Guidelines for Dementia Risk Reduction as a part of their mandate to provide evidence-based guidance for a public health response. The aim of this initiative is to improve the lives of people with dementia, their caregivers and families, and to reduce the incidence rate of the disease. A key focus of these guidelines is the importance of getting adequate amounts of exercise. One ‘strong’ recommendation is based on the effectiveness of physical activity in adults with normal cognition to reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
An important question to ask here is what exactly is an “adequate” amount of exercise. The WHO recommends “at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity in adults aged over 65.” These figures vary with different age groups. Some examples of such activities are dancing, hiking, sports, and planned exercise routines.
However, it is worrying to know that many individuals do not get the recommended amount of physical exercise. While in part it is up to individuals to make healthier choices, the environment where one lives also has an impact. For example, at Dementia Forum X Mrs. Jacqueline Hoogendam, Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, The Netherlands, highlighted the need to design safe outdoor spaces for people with dementia. Citing the guidelines, Dr Dévora Kestel of the WHO also emphasised the “responsibility of governments and institutions to generate spaces so that we can live and promote healthy habits”.
When it comes to seniors, one of the reasons why physical activity levels decline is due of stigmatization. Ageist attitudes towards older people in relation to health and exercise is detrimental to their overall physical and mental well-being. “There is evidence that older people may not recognise themselves as being frail, or want to be considered as such, even if they are happy to accept that they are an older person.”
As societies around the world progress towards becoming more inclusive, ageism and ageist notions are being challenged. Through advocacy, policy, social movements and grassroots initiatives, we are changing the way in which we understand and address the needs of seniors. One example of such an initiative is Styrka CrossFit in Stockholm, Sweden, where Anna Berggren conducts CrossFit training for seniors. CrossFit is high-intensity, multi-disciplinary functional training for improving stamina, strength, balance, speed, agility, and accuracy. A single workout session may incorporate elements from Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, gymnastics, and other exercises. The average age of the individuals in the senior training class in 65 and the oldest individual is 85.