Calgary fitness organizations partner with Alzheimer Calgary to help people stave off dementia

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Calgary fitness organizations partner with Alzheimer Calgary to help people stave off dementia
For the first time, Alzheimer Calgary is partnering with fitness organizations in the city to encourage people to get active in an effort to reduce the risk of getting dementia. Alzheimer Calgary is entering the new year on a mission to dispel common misconceptions surrounding dementia while offering up simple ways to reduce the risk of a future diagnosis. Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports. – Jan 27, 2024

Barb Stirrett credits the group fitness classes she attends in northwest Calgary at the Scenic Acres Community Centre for her recovery from serious health issues suffered recently.

“There’s no words to describe how much of a benefit all of us have received from this class,” said Stirrett.

Many people are also turning to classes like this for prevention, specifically for staving off dementia.

Only about 5% of dementia is hereditary. The most common risk factor is simply aging.

“We can’t avoid ageing but we can do a lot to reduce our risks and live well as we are aging. If you do have a dementia diagnosis, you can do a lot to live well post-diagnosis,” said Megan Williams with Alzheimer Calgary.

This month, Alzheimer Calgary has partnered with the fitness community with some studios directing proceeds to the organization.

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Tricia Ham specializes in seniors’ fitness.  She’s a personal trainer and group fitness instructor in Calgary.

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She says not only do clients tell her they are more nimble and have better balance now but they feel better mentally.

“Whenever they get these movements correct they know in their mind they’ve done it well.  Just to see the expression on their faces is unbelievably heartwarming,” Ham said.

Ham said 55-plus classes at the Scenic Acres Community Association exploded in popularity recently.

“We have a slightly older population in the neighbourhood so a lot of our programming in the community centre is focused on our senior residents. My class in particular that we’ve been running for the last year is full,” Ham said.

Exercise delivers more oxygen to the brain and fosters the growth of new nerve cells, crucial for memory and decision-making but following exercise patterns and keeping social helps too.

“I’ve watched friendship start to form. These are neighbours that didn’t necessarily know each other before we started working out together. That social impact is so important for cognitive maintenance,” Ham said.

Stirrett said she has made many new connections by attending the classes.

“Healthwise I think it has changed everyone in here. There’s a range of people here from probably 55 to 89 and it is amazing to see how many of us just keep coming back,” Stirrett said.

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Alzheimer Society of Canada says research has found that physical inactivity in later life raises dementia risk by an average of 40 per cent.

“I think a lot of people think if they get a diagnosis of dementia that means they have to put their current life on hold and all the things they love to do but that’s not the case.  You can still continue to exercise and learn new things and learn new fitness activities and being socially engaged and keeping active is a part of living well with dementia so we encourage things like group fitness classes,” said Williams.

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