Exercise types and ideas for people with dementia

There are different types of movement and exercise that are more suitable to people depending on the stage of dementia and their physical abilities.

Physical activity and exercise
Save this information

Less intensive movements for people with dementia

If moderate or vigorous activities aren’t suitable for you, you may want to try lighter activities. These may be suitable if you have limited fitness levels or difficulty with movement. This includes many daily living tasks such as: 

  • doing housework  
  • bringing in the shopping
  • taking your dog for a walk
  • pacing while waiting for the kettle to boil
  • doing some gentle stretches during TV ad breaks
  • walking up and down the stairs
  • standing up slowly and sitting down again every so often.  

Seated exercises help with muscle strength and balance and may be better for anyone who finds standing exercises more difficult. You can try doing seated exercises while watching the TV. The intensity can be increased over time by using resistance bands or light weights. 

However, seated exercises can put a lot of strain on the lower back, so speak to the GP before trying these.

Some examples of seated exercises include:

  • gentle marching with your feet
  • raising your heels and toes
  • raising your arms towards the ceiling
  • raising your opposite arm and leg  
  • straightening your legs in turn
  • clapping under your legs  
  • cycling your legs
  • putting your arms out straight and then pulling them back as if rowing
  • raising your arms straight out to the sides, and then moving them in small circles  
  • moving from sitting to standing. 

The British Gymnastics Foundation has a dementia-friendly seated gymnastics programme called Love to move.

These are gentle forms of Chinese martial arts. They use slow and simple movements to improve balance, strength and stability. This can help to reduce the risk of falls and support you to stay agile.  

Both yoga and Pilates are activities that can improve balance and stability, as well as overall strength. They can help improve how flexible you are. They can also increase how far and easily you can stretch. This is known as your ‘range of motion’. There are a number of dementia-friendly classes for both yoga and Pilates around the UK. More information can be found on the Age UK website.

These can help with balance and hand-eye coordination. Taking part can also provide good opportunities for meeting and interacting with other people. As the movements are quite slow, this reduces the risk of injury. Your local leisure centre may offer indoor bowls sessions, or you can buy sets from some sports stores.

Moderate physical activities for people with dementia

These activities are more likely to get you moving at a moderate intensity. An activity is moderate if it makes you breathe faster and feel warmer. As a guide, you’ll still be able to talk but not sing the words to a song.

Remember to warm up and stretch before starting any of these activities.

Walking can help you to build stamina and increase your overall fitness, as well as helping you if you want to lose weight. It’s free, and you can do it anywhere. It also does not need specialist equipment. However, you can use a walking aid if this makes it easier. You can vary how far or for how long you walk according to how fit you are.  

Walking does not have to be structured. A ‘long walk’ can involve going shopping, looking around a museum or art gallery, or taking a pet for a walk.

Walking alone can be a relaxing activity, although it may be a good idea to:

  • keep to familiar routes
  • take a mobile phone or GPS tracker with you
  • think about other equipment to take with you, such as a walking aid or a fitness tracker
  • let someone know where you are going.

Walking can also be a social activity which you can do with friends. You could also join a walking group. These are provided by some leisure centres and other local organisations. They arrange walks of various lengths that are supported by a walk leader. You can find out more information about organised walks on The Ramblers website.

Many people with dementia also take part in Alzheimer’s Society’s Memory Walk. This is a sponsored walk for all ages and abilities to come together and raise money to defeat dementia.

Gardening may help to strengthen your muscles and improve your breathing. For many people it’s a chance to get outdoors and do something meaningful and enjoyable. 

Engaging your senses can also help prompt memories from earlier times in your life. You might enjoy talking about this with someone. If you find it hard to get down to weed or prune the plants, consider using raised beds or planters that hang on the fence.  

If you don’t have your own garden or outside space, there are other ways to take part in gardening activities. There may be allotments in your local area. Some local organisations and schemes offer opportunities to work in community gardens. 

More information on local and community gardening programmes can be found on the Thrive website.

You can vary the activity level according to what you feel able to do. This means you could do something that requires less energy like weeding or pruning. Or a more intensive activity like raking or mowing the grass.

A window box can also be a good way to keep yourself active in a gentler way. For example, by watering, pruning or repotting plants or flowers. 

Gyms have a range of exercise equipment to help with your overall fitness as well as strengthening muscles. Some people prefer going to a gym to other forms of exercise as they can work out at their own pace and in their own time. Other people enjoy it more as a social activity. You may want to go with other people or take part in exercise classes.

You can adapt your activities at the gym based on what you want to do. For example, if you find it difficult to move around, you may prefer to use equipment like an exercise bike. You can stay seated while exercising your legs. Some gyms also offer dementia-friendly open days, and have staff who can help tailor an exercise programme to your needs. 

When you swim, you work a lot of muscles at once. It’s a great cardiovascular exercise. There is also some evidence that it may improve balance and reduce the risk of falls.

Many people also find the sensation of being in the water calming. You can vary the speed and duration of each swim so it can be as intensive or as light as you wish. If you’re a beginner or haven’t been swimming for a while, you might enjoy going swimming with someone else. Some pools also offer dementia-friendly swimming classes which are quieter and attended by trained staff. 

Swim England can help people with dementia enjoy the water safely.

Golf can help with balance. Golf can also benefit your heart and lungs because of the amount of walking it involves. It can be a more relaxing form of exercise and a chance to be outside. Some people also enjoy competing and playing with other people.

Some organisations arrange structured sessions for people with dementia. These can include group warm-ups and putting challenges. They may also organise golf games of various lengths – for example, nine holes. Golf in Society is an organisation that does this.

Table tennis can help you to maintain hand-eye coordination. It can be a good opportunity to spend time with other people too.

You can adapt table tennis to suit what you’re able to do. For instance, you can play it either sitting down or standing up. Some organisations have introduced tables with features like curved edges and high-contrast colours. This makes the ball and markings easier to see.  

Tennis is an activity with a number of benefits. These include increasing your stamina, balance and coordination. Like other sports, it gives the chance to spend time with other people.

You may want to play doubles or singles tennis depending on how intensive you need the activity to be. Doubles tennis is usually a moderate activity while singles tennis is usually a lot more intensive.

Some tennis clubs have specially adapted courts to make tennis more accessible. They may also have changes to the usual rules. For example, allowing the ball to bounce more than once before hitting it. Some clubs also offer ‘walking tennis’. This allows for a slower pace, as well as playing at special ‘quiet times’ during the day. 

Vigorous exercises suitable for people with dementia

Vigorous or strenuous physical activities should make you breathe hard and fast. Being this active means you can’t say more than a few words before you’re out of breath.  

Vigorous activities may suit you if you are already active. Speak to your GP or other health professional if you’re not currently very active and looking to do any of these activities.

It’s very important to warm up and stretch before carrying out any of the following activities each time. This is also the case for moderate activities. Many of these can be vigorous if you increase your effort doing them. 

Cycling can help with posture, coordination and balance. It’s up to you to decide how fast you ride, how far and where you go. You might stick to flat ground or take on more hilly or challenging routes. There are a number of cycling clubs, including some indoor classes designed specifically for people with dementia. 

These activities are both cardiovascular exercises. They can also improve your mood and help you if you want to lose weight.  

Jogging and running need very little equipment. However, it’s best to wear a pair of well-fitting, supportive running shoes.

If you haven’t run much previously, it’s important to slowly ease yourself into it. You can then increase the distance you run and the pace gradually over time. The NHS has information on running on their website.

Dancing offers many ways to be active as well as benefits including:

  • increasing strength and flexibility
  • helping you to stay steady and agile, which may reduce the risk of falls
  • reducing stress and improving mood
  • keeping you socially active.

Dancing can be structured with set steps or more improvised, involving ribbons, balls or hoops. Outfits and favourite types of music can also evoke happy memories. Dance classes can include couple or group sessions. If you have mobility issues, you can also perform dance moves in a seated position. 

There are a number of dementia-friendly dance fitness classes around the UK, as well as other classes that might be suitable. This includes Zumba Gold – a lower-intensity version of Zumba. 

Aerobics is usually fairly intensive. It gives a good cardiovascular workout and can help with coordination.

Aerobics classes are another sociable way to exercise. Gyms usually offer a range of classes for different levels of fitness. They also sometimes offer dementia-friendly classes. 

Team sports can help improve fitness, coordination, and balance. They can also increase strength and provide opportunities to meet people.

Some sports groups run less-intensive versions of team sports. For instance dementia-friendly walking football

Physical activity resources, support and ideas for people with dementia

  • Alzheimer's Scotland produce a wide range of information about dementia, including a booklet called 'Just Move: Physical Activity and exercise ideas for people living with dementia’ created in partnership with the NHS and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy
  • Dementia Adventure is a charity that organises short breaks and holidays for people living with dementia and their family and friends
  • Dementia Toolkit is a collection of research and evidence-based resources for people with dementia and their carers
  • Keep Fit Association offers people the opportunity to meet in a spirit of fun to exercise together. It offers a range of classes, including dedicated classes to people over 50, across the UK
  • The Sporting Memories Foundation is a charity dedicated to sports reminiscence and physical activities
  • We Are Undefeatable is a campaign that supports people with a range of long-term health conditions. It has been developed by 15 leading health and social care charities, including Alzheimer’s Society.   

Find exercises and activities in your area

AgeUK have an exercise directory to help you find activities in your area.  

Search for local activities