Exercise is one of the most powerful treatments for Parkinson’s disease. While exercise is an important part of healthy living for everyone. For people with Parkinson’s research has shown that exercise is particularly important to help maintain balance, strengthen your muscles, and increase your mobility. Studies have also shown that exercise is helpful in reducing the risk of getting PD and slowing down the progression.
The universal benefits of exercise in helping everyone feel better and improving overall health are well-documented. There is evidence, too, that exercise may hold specific benefits for people with Parkinson’s disease (PD):
- Preventing or slowing progression: Studies have linked exercise to reduced risk of Parkinson’s and slower progression. While scientists don’t know exactly why, they believe exercise may help brain cells stay healthy.
- Managing symptoms: Some symptoms, such as balance and constipation, are particularly helped by exercise. Exercise also improves strength, is linked to better brain health and helps lessen or manage other symptoms.
- Avoiding isolation: Parkinson’s can be isolating. Many people exercise with a group or with friends and family, making exercise a social activity, as well. Staying active in your community lowers stress and helps ease symptoms.
What’s the Best Exercise for Parkinson’s?
It’s not a popular answer, but it’s the truth: The best exercise is one that is safe, enjoyable and that pushes you. Research supports a variety of exercises for Parkinson’s — treadmill walking, boxing, dancing and many others — but one is not necessarily better than another. Some people prefer swimming to biking; others like group fitness classes rather than exercising alone. Still others like to mix up their routine with a variety of workouts. Find what you enjoy and what motivates and challenges you. Then do it regularly, at least three times per week.
How Do I Find What Exercise Works for Me?
Experts recommend beginning exercise as soon as possible after diagnosis, but it’s never too late to get started. A physiotherapist can help guide you to the best exercise program for your needs, as well as help you improve your mobility.
Are There Specific Exercises for Motor Symptoms?
Certain exercises may be helpful for specific motor symptoms of Parkinson’s:
- For balance, consider tai chi and yoga.
- To improve coordination and agility, look into dancing or boxing.
- For significant balance problems or limited mobility, seated aerobic exercises can give a challenging workout that raise the heart rate.
- To target freezing of gait (sudden, temporary inability to move) or falls, find a Parkinson’s-specific physical therapy program that emphasizes bigger movements with walking and activities and can help with fall prevention strategies. Talk to your neurologist about finding a therapist who specialises in Parkinson’s.
- For dystonia — muscle cramping that often affects the calves, feet or toes — try lower impact exercises (water aerobics or walking, for example) that don’t bring on symptoms. Stretching overactive muscles and strengthening the opposing muscles also may help.
Do Certain Exercises Target Non-motor Symptoms?
You can tailor most exercises to work on memory and thinking. For example, while exercising, you can do math problems or name as many items as you can think of in a category (such as animals or automobiles) in one minute. Your physical therapist can provide other suggestions.
Most exercises also can help fatigue, a common Parkinson’s symptom. It sounds counterintuitive to exercise when you feel tired, but this is one of the best treatments for fatigue. You may feel a little worse before you feel better (most people with or without Parkinson’s feel tired when starting an exercise program). Rate your fatigue before and after working out and keep a log to see how much you can do and how fatigue improves over time.