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5 Ways Exercise Can Help Manage Parkinson’s Disease

With no cure available for Parkinson’s disease, managing symptoms is key to making sure you have the best quality of life possible.

Medications can mask the symptoms and help you move better. But those treatments won’t make lasting changes to your mobility or physical activity level. The only way to do that is through exercise.

There’s no one type of exercise that’s better than others. You want to find something safe you will do regularly that gets your heart rate up. You don’t need to run a marathon, but you should do more than a leisurely walk around the neighborhood with the dog. You will also benefit from general strengthening and stretching exercises. Among the options:

  • Brisk walk
  • Jogging
  • Biking (use a stationary bike if that feels safer)
  • Swimming
  • Dancing
  • Water aerobics
  • Yoga
  • Tai Chi
  • Weightlifting
  • Resistance training
  • Treadmill

There was a time when people with Parkinson’s disease weren’t sent to a physical therapist until they started falling or experiencing significantly impaired mobility. But today, patients increasingly have physical therapy as soon as they receive their diagnosis. Let’s look at five reasons for this shift:

  1. Movement is Medicine

    For people with Parkinson’s disease, physical activity is the only proven way to slow the progression of motor symptoms. Medication can temporarily alleviate symptoms and make movement easier, but exercise makes lasting changes and maintains long-term mobility. A safe exercise routine developed with the help of a physical therapist familiar with Parkinson’s can help you remain mobile so that you can do the things you enjoy.

  2. Healthy Body, Healthy Brain

    Exercise that gets your heart rate up can improve your brain's health. When you exercise, your body releases chemicals and proteins that protect your brain’s existing connections and prime it to make new connections. This influx of beneficial chemicals, combined with increased blood flow and oxygen to the brain, can make you feel more alert. Try a crossword puzzle or some other favorite brain game immediately after a brisk walk and you may notice a difference.

  3. Balancing Act

    Parkinson’s disease can cause balance problems and feelings of instability. A structured balance exercise program prescribed by a physical therapist can help reduce your risk of falls. For the best results, start working with a therapist before your balance issues become a problem. Getting an early start will help keep you safer during your daily life. But if you have had falls already, a physical therapist can still help. No matter what stage of the disease you are in, a therapist can help you develop a safe program specific to your needs.

  4. Stay Flexible

    Range of motion is important to many of the daily tasks we take for granted, including putting on a shirt, tying your shoes and taking a shower. A stretching program can help maintain joint flexibility to keep these tasks from becoming more difficult. Parkinson’s disease typically causes increased muscle stiffness, so starting a regular stretching program early can help with tight muscles and stiff joints in the long run. If you are having difficulty with dressing due to decreased range of motion in your joints, consider consulting with an occupational therapist about adaptive equipment and techniques to maintain your independence with these tasks.

  5. Movement and Mood

    Depression, anxiety and apathy (decreased motivation) can be some of the most disabling symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Apathy can make it a challenge to get started with an exercise program. But you might find you feel better both physically and mentally after you get moving. Exercising releases chemicals in your brain that makes you feel happier and can reduce anxiety. If you are experiencing depression, anxiety and/or apathy related to Parkinson’s disease, please discuss this with your doctor. Physical health and mental health are both important when fighting Parkinson’s disease.

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