Parkinson’s disease is a movement disorder with symptoms of bradykinesia (slowness of movement), hypokinesia (reduced movement and/or inability to produce movement), akinesia (rigidity, lack of movement such as an arm swing), tremors and more.

For people with Parkinson’s, Exercise is Medicine! It needs to be done daily. Here are a few benefits of exercise:

  • Ease and/or improvement of the following motor symptoms:

Posture, stiffness, rigidity, slowness, walking, first step, freezing, moving through narrow spaces, gait, balance, coordination, tremors

  • Ease and/or improvement of the following non-motor symptoms:

Cognitive changes (neuroplasticity), sleep, depression, anxiety, fatigue, distractibility, mood

  • Improved quality of life and functional capacity

A recent study showed that exercising just 2.5 hours per week could help delay the progression of symptoms of Parkinson’s!

The study, published in the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease, monitored the self-reported exercise of more than 3,400 people with PD over two years. The researchers found that, during that time, people with Parkinson’s who consistently exercised 2.5 hours per week had a smaller decline in mobility and quality of life compared to people who exercised less or not at all. They had better mobility, physical function, cognitive performance and experienced less disease progression over the course of a year.

These positive implications of exercise were significant regardless of the type of exercise and no matter if the participant was a regular exerciser before the study or started upon study enrollment. This suggests almost any form of exercise can be beneficial and it’s never too late to begin.

So what exercise is best for PD? In short, it’s the one you’ll keep doing. People with Parkinson’s Disease benefit from many types of exercise: boxing, drumming, walking (poles), cycling, dance, yoga, tai chi, and others.

The important thing is to move the whole body big, large, and loud! This will keep the brain tissue healthy and keep dopamine (a neurotransmitter, important for movement production) more present, active and available.

How to get started:

  • Find a class designed specifically for Parkinson’s Disease. Check your local senior center, community center, health club, private fitness studio, etc.

  • Choose something you enjoy. You are much more likely to stick with an exercise program if you enjoy it.

  • Bring a friend. Not only will it make it fun, they will keep you accountable!

Make sure your weekly exercise program is well rounded and includes:

  • Cardio – to improve cardiovascular health. Make sure it is progressive and vigorous. Research is showing high intensity interval workouts have a huge impact. On a scale of 1-10, try to reach 7-8. It should feel challenging and uncomfortable, close to breathless. Intervals on the bike or treadmill are great options.

  • Endurance – will help manage tremors, balance, etc. Do continuous movements to build endurance, which will reduce fatigue. Fatigue is the building block for tremors, balance, etc. If it takes longer to fatigue you can reduce tremors and improve balance.

  • Strength – will improve the structure and function of muscles and plays in the ability to improve balance reaction and correction (ability to catch yourself from tripping or falling).

  • Flexibility – can reduce stiffness. The ability to move your body when and where you want.

  • Posture reinforcement – affects how the body is leaning which plays with balance, coordination, fall prevention, etc.

  • Specificity of real life – specificity matters. If you have challenges in real life (rolling over in bed, getting out of a chair, turning in tights areas, stepping, etc.) practice these skills during your daily workout.

  • Dynamic and complex motor skill exercises – these multi step or multi task exercises will challenge and improve coordination and cognitive agility.

  • Distractibility – ability to stay focused on what’s happening in the body right now. To see what’s coming up and being able to make the appropriate adjustments.

  • Balance – (practice every day!!) will increase your ability to attend to different stimuli, to stay focused on your movement and minimize distractions.

Here’s a 4-stage balance test you can practice daily (see image below)

  • Stage 1

Stand with feet side-by-side – time it.

The goal is 30 sec

  • Stage 2

Place instep of one next to arch of other – time it.

The goal is 10 sec each side

  • Stage 3

Feet lined up, heel to toe, tight rope – time it.

The goal is 10 sec each side

< 10 sec may lead to increased risk for falling

  • Stage 4

Single leg balance – time it.

Note your progress over time.

ActivMotion Bar

There is a quote we often hear related to exercise and muscle stimulation that sounds like this: “Use it or lose it.” We prefer to frame this information a little differently: “Use it, and improve your quality of life and real world function dramatically.”

It’s about improving the quality of your daily practice. Being engaged and staying focused and present. As you get stronger, challenge yourself physically and cognitively by changing the environment (examples – close your eyes, walk or stand on different surfaces, create challenging cognitive games, etc.).

Exercise is Medicine. If it challenges you, you will get better!

Grab your ActivMotion Bar and let’s start moving.

Written by:

Renae McCloud

Master Trainer for ActivMotion Bar

Owner, McCloud Fitness

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