Exercise for Parkinson's

Parkinson's – exercise

Learn about the benefits and impacts of exercise on Parkinson's.

What are the benefits of exercise for people with Parkinson's?

Exercise is vital for people with Parkinson's. Along with other physical activity, medications and physical and occupational therapy, it is one of the most important things you can do to stay well. It improves your overall health and wellbeing and appears to improve your body's reaction to dopamine. 

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When you are in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease you are likely to be just as fit as others in your age group. However, over time:

  • your cardiovascular system can be affected, meaning you can do less activity.
  • your muscles may become less strong, affecting your walking and ability to stand up from sitting. 

These things can contribute to balance problems and function. Regular exercise can help to:

  • improve muscle flexibility and range of motion
  • improve balance, agility and coordination, balance, gait, speech and dexterity
  • strengthen muscles
  • improve energy levels and sleep
  • reduce fatigue
  • manage stress and depression
  • improve attention, thinking, learning and memory
  • reduce constipation.

Some animal studies also suggest physical exercise may possibly slow the progression of your symptoms as well. The Parkinson’s Outcomes Project shows that people with Parkinson’s disease who started exercising regularly early on, and for at least 2.5 hours a week, maintained their quality of life longer than those who started exercising later.

What types of exercise are best? 

There are many physical activities that are good for people with Parkinson’s, especially those that focus on:

  • aerobic activity
  • strength training
  • balance, agility
  • multi-tasking and stretching.

These types of exercise are involved in a range of physical activities including biking, running, tai chi, Pilates, dancing and weight training.

The important thing to remember is that any exercise is better than no exercise.  

While all types of exercise are beneficial, everyone with Parkinson’s is affected differently. Therefore a thorough assessment is helpful in understanding your Parkinson’s and what exercise options might be best for you. Following a personalised exercise programme (one that is set up specially for you) will help you to stay well, and maintain your abilities and quality of life for as long as possible. 

Talk to your physiotherapist about what exercises are best for you. If you don’t have support have a look at the support available in each region. 

A personalised exercise programme should contain information about:

  • the equipment needed
  • relevant exercises (about 3–4)
  • how many times and how often they should be done
  • how to record your activity and progress
  • things to do to stay safe
  • any changes needed to adapt them for you.

Parkinson’s New Zealand has information and videos on exercising if you have Parkinson’s. They also provide the following resources: 

How much exercise should I do?

How long and how often you exercise will depend on how, and how much, Parkinson’s is affecting you. Other factors to consider include your age and other health conditions. How often you exercise also depends on your exercise goals:

  • If you are doing strength training, you need a day off in between sessions to let your muscles recover.
  • If you are exercising to improve your bradykinesia (slowness of movement), stiffness, tremor or agility, being active every day is beneficial.  Aim to exercise or be active at a moderate level for about 30 minutes most days of the week. 

What can help me stay motivated to exercise?

Parkinson’s New Zealand provides the following suggestions for how to stay motivated with your exercise:

  • Make exercise a regular part of your day.
  • Set goals, review them regularly and celebrate when you achieve them.
  • Keep a record of what you are doing to track your progress.
  • Exercise with a friend or whānau member.
  • Get a foundation in place by:
    • committing to the first 21 days
    • doing it every day
    • starting simply
    • deciding on a trigger for doing your exercise, eg, after breakfast, or during your afternoon tea break to help form a habit.
    • be accountable for exercising by keeping a written record/diary or telling a friend.
    • use ‘but’ to interrupt negative thoughts“I’m having trouble with this but if I keep trying I will be able to do it”.

Read more about staying motivated. 

Learn more

The following websites give more details on exercises for people with Parkinson's. 

A Parkinson’s specific exercise programme Parkinson’s New Zealand
Exercise Parkinson's Victoria, Australia
Exercise Parkinson's UK
Parkinson’s UK provides an exercise toolkit with video workouts ranging from chair-based aerobics to balance exercises.
The Parkinson’s exercise guide American Parkinson Disease Association
A range of video resources Stanford Medicine, US
A form to record how well you are managing your daily activities. PD Warrior, US

References

  1. A Parkinsons specific exercise programme Parkinson’s New Zealand
  2. Exercise Parkinson’s Foundation, US
  3. Exercise for Parkinson’s disease – essential facts for patients International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society, 2016  
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team. Reviewed By: Tara Martin, Neurological Physiotherapist, Multiple Sclerosis & Parkinson's Canterbury