best-exercises-parkinsons-disease

Exercise is a crucial part of any lifestyle. From maintaining a healthy weight to boosting strength to improving mental wellbeing, the benefits are numerous. For Parkinson’s Disease patients, in particular, exercise is a key component of rehabilitation that has been demonstrated to control symptoms and improve functionality. Many patients may be hesitant about embarking on an exercise program if they haven’t exercised before, or may have questions about what forms of exercise are safe. Here, we offer a detailed guide to the best exercises for Parkinson’s, including safety tips and other types of treatment to supplement it.

Understanding Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s Disease is one of the most common neurodegenerative conditions in the world. It primarily damages dopamine-producing neurons in a specific area of the brain called substantia nigra. Since dopamine is involved in sending messages to the parts of the brain in charge of coordination and movement, the declining levels of dopamine affect movement and lead to symptoms like tremors and unsteady gait. The cause of Parkinson’s Disease is unknown, with a mix of environmental and genetic factors held responsible in most cases. A tailored treatment program can significantly improve symptom control and quality of life.

Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease

The early symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease can be mild, and other people may notice them before the patient does. While individual symptoms will vary from one patient to another, the common ones observed in most cases include:

  • Stiffness in the limbs or joints
  • Unsteady gait and balance
  • Slow movements (bradykinesia)
  • Tremors, especially in the hands or fingers
  • Soft, slurred speech
  • Cramped handwriting
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Constipation
  • Cognitive changes, like trouble finding the right word
  • Problems with bladder/bowel function

If you observe any of these yourself and if they persist for a few weeks, you should get a check-up straightaway. Even though there may be other, less serious causes behind the symptoms, it’s best to catch Parkinson’s Disease sooner than later.

Benefits of exercise for Parkinson’s Disease

One of the first things that any doctor will recommend in a Parkinson’s Disease treatment program is exercise. This is because exercise has neuroprotective effects, which means that it improves the functioning of the neurons that control voluntary movement. Not only does exercise help to manage symptoms and slow disease progression, but it also has excellent psychological benefits and often promotes social interaction. Studies have repeatedly shown that patients who start exercise early on have much better overall outcomes. 

Some of the physical and emotional benefits of exercise include:

  • Improved strength and flexibility
  • Greater balance and stability
  • Greater mobility for daily activities
  • Reduced fatigue
  • Better sleep quality
  • Improvement in symptoms like constipation
  • Reduction in falls and/or gait freezes
  • Healthier brain cells
  • Reduced depression and stress
  • Greater social interaction and community participation

What are the best exercises for people with Parkinson’s

For optimal results, a Parkinson’s treatment exercise program will incorporate elements of strength, mobility, balance, flexibility, and daily functionality. No two exercise programs will look alike, as it all depends on the patient’s symptoms, overall health, whether or not they have exercised before, and what they like doing. Usually, there will be a combination of the following.

  • Aerobic exercise: These involve activities that challenge the cardiovascular system, including the lungs and heart. Studies show that engaging in aerobic exercise sessions for 30-40 minutes at least three times a week can noticeably slow disease progression. Walking, running, cycling, hiking, and swimming all count as aerobic exercise. Patients can split their sessions between high-intensity and moderate-intensity workouts for the best results. 
  • Strength training: This involves building muscle mass through one’s own body weight or the use of weighted equipment. Doing strength-based Parkinson’s exercises at least twice a week can help control symptoms. In particular, strength training focused on the legs and extensor muscles can improve posture. Patients should start with low weights and fewer repetition until they build confidence.
  • Flexibility training: This is a key complement to all forms of Parkinson’s exercises. It involves a variety of stretching exercises that hold each major muscle group for about 30 to 60 seconds. 
  • Balance and agility training: These are exercises that combine all the above elements and often include daily activities that are relatively less intense. Dancing, golfing, water aerobics, tai chi, pilates, yoga, and even gardening are useful types of exercise.

Tips for exercising with Parkinson’s Disease

For people with Parkinson’s Disease, physical exercise calls for some extra care. Balance issues and tremors can affect one’s grip and stability and cause injury if the patient is not careful. The following tips can help you stay safe during Parkinson’s exercises while also having a fruitful session.

  • Ensure that any exercise program you start has the approval of your therapist. They can recommend exercises that will help your specific symptoms and also warn you about ones that are not ideal for your limitations.
  • Look for gyms or community centers that offer special exercise programs for Parkinson’s Disease patients. For instance, some offer seated exercise options for those with balance problems. In addition, pick a trainer who has experience working with Parkinson’s patients. 
  • Try to work out with a friend or family member for extra motivation.
  • When strength training, use lighter weights at first and ask a trainer or companion to watch your form.
  • Always stretch after every workout to help your muscles recover. Stretching, in fact, can be done multiple times a day even on the days you are not exercising.
  • Make use of a guard rail or other form of support as necessary. 
  • Choose machines and aids to support your performance. For instance, if you enjoy biking but don’t feel stable enough to bike outdoors, use a recumbent indoor bike for extra seat and back support.
  • Avoid exercising in places that have poor lighting or slippery floors.
  • Stop immediately if you feel dizzy, lightheaded, or sick in any way.
  • Incorporate more movement into your day, such as by taking the stairs rather than using the elevator or parking further away from work so that you can get in a walk.
  • Keep logging your performance during every workout so that you can track how you feel and what types of exercise you do best.
  • Pay attention to your body and ask your trainer or doctor about exercise modifications if you feel your symptoms are advancing. 
  • Don’t be disheartened if you aren’t progressing as fast as you would like. Always start small and stay consistent. Over time, you will feel stronger and fitter.

Other forms of treatment for Parkinson’s Disease

Exercise works best when it is part of a broader rehabilitation program that focuses on various aspects of the Parkinson’s patient’s life. Typically, an entire healthcare team will be working concertedly to improve the patient’s health on multiple fronts. Other therapy options that the patient will benefit from include:

  • Occupational Therapy: An occupational therapist teaches patients various exercises to improve fine motor skills that make daily activities like eating or bathing much easier. Wherever necessary, the therapist can recommend assistive devices, like special cutlery that can be gripped more easily. 
  • Speech Therapy: This involves various exercises to overcome difficulties with speaking and swallowing. Chewing each mouthful of food for longer, speaking more clearly, or making faces can all help improve strength in the facial muscles.
  • Cognitive Therapy: Trained therapists can guide patients through activities that improve attention, memory, and learning. 
  • Diet: A nutritious diet is vital for good health and is in fact a key complement to Parkinson’s Disease physical exercise. As far as possible, the patient should eat whole, plant-based foods that keep them full and provide energy.

FAQs

  • What is the best exercise for Parkinson’s Disease?

While there is no single exercise that will work for everyone, some of the best Parkinson’s treatment exercises include biking, running, tai chi, yoga, and pilates.

  • Can exercise prevent Parkinson’s?

Exercise cannot prevent Parkinson’s Disease, as the causal factors are not fully known yet. However, studies have shown that people who stay fit and exercise regularly are less likely to develop Parkinson’s Disease.

  • Can exercise slow down Parkinson’s?

A regular program of Parkinson’s exercises has been demonstrated to slow down the rate of disease progression and boost dopamine levels in the brain.

  • What should Parkinson’s patients avoid?

For optimum health, Parkinson’s Disease patients should avoid foods that are high in sugar, sodium, or trans fats. In addition, while protein is essential for muscle-building, too much of it can have negative effects.

  • How can I improve my Parkinson’s balance?

There are several exercises for people with Parkinson’s that focus on balance training. Static standing balance, single leg stands, wall sits, side stepping, and lateral weight shifts are all effective exercises.

  • How do you know when Parkinson’s is getting worse?

When Parkinson’s Disease progresses, symptoms such as tremor and rigidity become more intense or start affecting both sides of the body. Posture and gait problems may become more apparent, and performing daily tasks could become tougher.

  • How can I strengthen my Parkinson’s legs?

Patients who are struggling with leg strength can perform a variety of sitting or standing exercises either bodyweight or with weights. Lunges, squats, weight shifts, or wall sits are all commonly recommended exercises.

  • Does walking help Parkinson’s disease?

Brisk walking as a regular form of aerobic exercise has been demonstrated to improve symptoms for Parkinson’s Disease. Try and incorporate more walking into your daily routine as far as possible.

  • How should you sleep with Parkinson’s?

Sticking to a consistent bedtime and following a soothing routine prior to sleep (such as reading or meditating) can help to improve sleep quality.

  • Does Parkinson’s get worse at night?

As Parkinson’s Disease progresses, patients may start experiencing more sleep trouble at night, such as waking up more frequently or having vivid dreams.

  • Why do Parkinson’s tremors stop when sleeping?

Typically, Parkinson’s tremor most commonly occurs when the patient is awake and at rest. It disappears or reduces when the patient is asleep or engaged in active exercise.

  • Can Parkinson’s stay mild?

Parkinson’s is a progressive condition, which means that the symptoms may be mild at first but will worsen over time. Early intervention and tailored treatment can reduce the rate at which the progression happens.

In conclusion, while exercise cannot cure Parkinson’s outright, it plays a key role in managing symptoms and improving overall health so that the patient can maintain a more enriched lifestyle. Always consult your doctor before picking up any new exercise regime and make sure you’re performing the exercises safely and with good form. Above all, have as much fun with it as possible. The more you enjoy it, the more motivated you will be to show up every day, and the sooner you can start enjoying the benefits.

Dr Na'eem Sadiq is a respected stem cell specialist at Plexus, and a prominent neurologist in Bangalore. He studied neurology and clinical neurophysiology in London, and worked with some of the most prestigious medical institutions in England, and the Middle East. He completed his MBBS at Bellary Government Medical College, and a postgraduate degree in psychiatry from NIMHANS in Bangalore.

Dr Na'eem has perfected his knowledge and expertise in Continuing medical education (CME), and training in tissue culture, Stem Cell Therapy, and neurology. Dr Na'eem Sadiq possesses an undying passion to improve people’s lives. This led to the creation of Plexus, a neuro and Stem Cell Research centre in Bangalore in neurosurgery, and neurorehabilitation.