Updated: Apr 25
Exercise contributes to physical and mental well-being at any age. However, physical activity is especially important for those diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Exercise plays a key role in slowing the progression of Parkinson’s disease and managing its symptoms – allowing a person diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease the ability to perform daily activities.
Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects a specific part of the brain. The most obvious early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are tremor, rigidity, slowness of movement, and difficulty with walking - often referred to as the "Parkinson’s shuffle." Cognitive and behavioral issues may also occur with depression, anxiety, and apathy presenting in many people with Parkinson’s disease.
Exercise is proven to slow the disease and manage the symptoms. Exercise also has psychological benefits, protects brain cells, and allows for a sense of community if performed in a group setting. Those with Parkinson’s disease are encouraged to start an exercise program soon after diagnosis. According to the Cleveland Clinic, people who start exercising earlier in the Parkinson’s disease process present with better outcomes and overall well-being.
There is no “right” exercise for people with Parkinson’s disease. Exercise regimens differ depending on the person’s overall health, symptoms, and abilities. Any exercise helps and there are lots of choices:
· Aerobic exercise
· Strength training
· Flexibility training
· Balance and agility training
Those with Parkinson’s disease are encouraged to get creative in finding a repetitive movement that works for them. Examples of activities some might overlook as exercise are:
· Activities in the pool (aerobic)
· Stretching (flexibility)
· Dancing (balance and agility)
· Gardening (balance and agility)
· Boxing (balance and agility)
Exercise as it applies to Parkinson’s patients extends well beyond hitting the gym. The Cleveland Clinic encourages facial exercises as an effort to combat difficulties speaking or swallowing – symptoms commonly experienced as the disease progresses. The Cleveland Clinic suggests patients
· Chew their food longer and more vigorously
· Exaggerate their face and lip movements when they speak
· Make faces in the mirror
· Sing or read out loud
Let us not forget exercising the brain. Mental exercises such as brain games, puzzles, and solving math problems give the brain a workout and can improve memory.
Exercise is proven to promote physical and emotional health. As it relates to Parkinson’s disease, exercise generally improves tremors and other symptoms in the long run. To reduce the risk of injury, stretching before and after exercise is encouraged. Parkinson’s patients are reminded to use good form, avoid slippery surfaces, poor lighting, and tripping hazards. Regardless of your age or physicality, if you have pain, stop and rest. Remember to start slowly and increase intensity and duration over time. Eventually, you’ll determine what works best for you.