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Physical Activity with Parkinson’s Disease

The benefits of regular physical activity are well-known. An active lifestyle promotes a number of benefits and reduces the risk of developing health problems. 

Generally speaking, people living with Parkinson’s who also exercise fare better over the long run than those who don’t. In fact, there is some evidence suggesting that exercise early in one’s life may reduce the chance of developing Parkinson’s later in life. Exercise may even lead to some improvements in Parkinsonian symptoms and one’s overall sense of well-being. In addition to ensuring you take your medications as prescribed, exercise might be among the most important things you can do to help manage symptoms.

Beyond the benefits to your body, regular exercise can also improve your frame of mind, boost your confidence, and broaden your social horizons.

     Read: Your new year's resolution to start working out could do more than just trim your waistline

Think of physical activity as having a cascade effect of positive reinforcement: the benefits tend to build off and interact with one another. You feel better, you have more energy, you feel more confident, your health improves, and your state of mind improves.

What kinds of things should you consider if you’ve been diagnosed with Parkinson’s or you have Parkinsonian symptoms?

  • Get clearance: if you’re planning a new exercise routine, first speak with your doctor about your intentions, especially if you are age 60 and up.
  • Connect with a pro, if possible: try to arrange to work with a physiotherapist or a physical therapist to focus on exercises that are right for your specific circumstances.
  • Think it through: take some time to consider what interests you and what will practically work, under your specific circumstances. Many types of activity can be adapted to meet your needs.
  • Grab low-hanging fruit: be aware that you’re not seeking an Olympian exercise routine. Something as simple as getting off the bus one stop early, or using the stairs instead of the elevator, can make a meaningful difference in your overall health.

What types of exercise might be in order?

Think FABS: Flexibility, Aerobics, Balance, and Strengthening

Flexibility:

  • Improves mobilityi and range of motion; can make everyday activities such as walking easier
  • Examples: stretching, Tai Chi, yoga, dance

Aerobics:

  • Improves cardiac function and helps your body take in oxygen
  • Examples: swimming, cycling, brisk walking, treadmill

Balance:

  • May help your mobility and range of motion; can also help prevent falls
  • Examples: yoga, hiking, or using a wall, chair or counter and standing on one foot

Strengthening:

  • May help improve muscle strength, walking endurance, and posture
  • Simple leg lifts while sitting upright in a chair; yard work; resistance training with weights

Additional possible benefits of exercise

  • Improved or better-regulated sleeping patterns
  • Improved sex drive and stamina
  • Improved mood
  • Appetite regulation and can help manage constipation (which can be a side effect of many medications)

Tips and tricks

Always remember to start slow and build up your capacity for physical activity. Your ultimate goal will be in the area of 30 minutes of daily activity five times a week, but gradually work your way up to your desired target. Consistency is key.

Try the buddy system: physical activity of almost all kinds can be more enjoyable when you have a good friend or loved one alongside you. It can also reduce anxiety if you are concerned about falling or losing your balance.

Seek out activities that you personally find enjoyable. It’s a lot easier to stay motivated when you’re actually looking forward to your chosen physical activity.

There are many visual aids and instructional videos you can use to help you along the way as you grow into an exercise routine. Technique is important so that you don’t hurt yourself.

Remember to talk to your doctor about your health status BEFORE you start any new physical activity.

Most importantly? Have some fun!

Additional resources
Parkinson Canada. Exercises for People with Parkinson’s. http://www.parkinson.ca/wp-content/uploads/Exercises_for_people_with_Parkinsons.pdf
Parkinson’s Foundation. Exercise. http://www.parkinson.org/Understanding-Parkinsons/Treatment/Exercise
Parkinson Canada. Physical Activity and Parkinson’s Disease. http://www.parkinson.ca/wp-content/uploads/PARKINSON-CANADA-PHYSICAL-ACTIVITY.pdf
 

 

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