Parkinson’s and Exercise

Quincy AdamExercise, Parkinsons, Parkinsons Lifestyle

Exercise is an important part of a healthy lifestyle for everyone, but even more so for people who have Parkinson’s Disease, a movement disorder with tremors, slowing and stiffening movement that affects about 1 million people in the US and 10 million people worldwide.1 

Exercise can help people with Parkinson’s maintain balance, strength and mobility, even for those whose disease has progressed. Exercise may also have some cognitive protective benefits for people with Parkinson’s.2

Benefits of Exercise for People with Parkinson’s

  • Reduces stiffness
  • Improves posture, balance, the way you walk and move your body
  • Aerobic exercise increases oxygen that keeps the heart, lungs and nervous system healthy
  • Improves depression
  • May improve cognitive function or protect against further cognitive decline 1

Types of Exercise for Parkinson’s

Researchers have been conducting studies evaluating which types of exercise programs most benefit people with Parkinson’s at different stages of the disease.  There is increasing evidence that aerobic exercises that challenge the heart and lungs, exercises that require changing tempo, activity or direction, and those that work on good posture, rotating the body, and have rhythmic movements on both sides of the body, are best for people with Parkinson’s. 3

  • Dancing, skipping and cycling
  • Yoga
  • Walking – including walking at different speeds
  • Hiking
  • Swimming – including using different strokes
  • Treadmills that are body weight supported to prevent falls
  • Tai Chi
  • Marching to music while swinging the arms
  • Ping pong, Golf, Tennis, Volleyball
  • Aerobic/Jazzercise classes

Physical and Mental Exercise with Parkinson’s

Exercises that combine physical activity with promoting attention and learning are encouraged. Exercises that progress with difficulty challenging the individual to change position, tempo or direction have shown evidence of helping people with Parkinson’s who struggle with shifting from one activity to another or performing two activities at the same time.

Experts recommend exercising 4-5 times a week for at least 30 to 40 minutes and at times when mobility is best. For some people, that is within an hour after taking Parkinson’s medications.3

Remember it is important to check with a physician before beginning any exercise program to discuss what is best for the individual.

  1. Managing Parkinson’s Mid-Stride. National Parkinson Foundation, a division of the Parkinson’s Foundation. Accessed on April 2, 2018.
  2. PLoS One. 2018; 13(2): e0193113.Published online 2018 Feb 27. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0193113. PMCID: PMC5828448. Effects of physical exercise programs on cognitive function in Parkinson’s disease patients: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials of the last 10 years. Accessed on March 23, 2018.
  3. Exercise and Physical Therapy. Parkinson’s Disease Clinic and Research Center. Accessed on March 23, 2018.