Can Exercise Slow Parkinson’s Disease Progress?

These days we continue to hear more about the benefits of exercise. It can help us control weight, reduce cardiovascular disease risk, cut some cancer risks and improve mental health. It can even increase your chances of living longer!

We have one more benefit of exercise for those with Parkinson’s disease. It can help Parkinson’s patients maintain their quality of life.

What Is Parkinson’s?

Parkinson’s disease is diagnosed in 60,000 Americans every year. It’s a progressive movement disorder. In scientific terms, it’s a neurodegenerative brain disorder. It limits a person’s ability to move and typically gets worse over time.

Parkinson’s happens when nerve cells in the brain don’t produce enough dopamine. This is an important brain chemical that helps certain nerve cells communicate with each other.

Dopamine is critical to nervous system functions such as movement, pleasure, attention, mood and motivation.

Parkinson’s can reduce the patient’s mobility and quality of life.

The disorder’s signs can be remembered using the acronym TRAP.

  • Tremor — 80% of cases include a tremor or involuntary shaking of the hands, feet, chin and/or tongue.
  • Rigidity — Muscle stiffness may appear as the loss of arm swing when walking or loss of facial expression. The patient may also notice unusual fatigue or muscle pain.
  • Akinesia (slow movements) — Walking may become slower. The voice may become softer and less understandable. The sense of balance may be reduced.
  • Progression — The disorder’s progress varies with each person, but most people can continue near normal activities for 5 to 10 years.

Can Exercise Help Relieve Parkinson’s Symptoms?

Research has found that regular exercise can significantly slow a patient’s decline in quality of life. Exercise should be part of a total treatment program.

A study found Parkinson’s patients who exercised 150 minutes each week had a better quality of life. They had more mobility over two years than patients who didn’t exercise or exercised less.

The study didn’t determine what type of exercise works best. But it appears most any type of exercise for 150 minutes is better than no exercise.

Researchers found the best plan for patients is to find a form of exercise they enjoy. This enhanced the chance they would stick with it.

The study also found that the quality-of-life benefits associated with 30-minute increases in exercise per week was greatest in patients with advanced Parkinson’s.

People who aren’t getting the recommended amount of exercise can start exercise today. Exercise helps reduce declines in both quality of life and mobility even as the disease advances.

For some, a regular organized exercise program can be helpful. A therapist will work with each individual to maximize the benefits of exercise. Ask your health care provider about programs near you.

Along with the physical benefits, exercise may also reduce depression.

What Type of Exercise Is Helpful?

Evidence shows that aerobic exercise is beneficial. This type of exercise includes:

  • Walking
  • Hiking using a walking stick
  • Swimming using a variety of strokes

Exercises that engage the participant in learning movements are also beneficial. These activities include:

  • Dancing
  • Yoga
  • Tai Chi

Walking around the neighborhood and getting out in the garden are helpful. We’re all more likely to continue with an exercise that’s fun!

Whether you have Parkinson’s or not, your health can benefit from:

  • Walking when you can rather than driving.
  • Taking the stairs rather than the elevator.
  • During the workday, taking periodic breaks to lift your arms up, move around and get some deep breaths of air.

If you or someone you care about has Parkinson’s disease, check with a health care provider about exercise and how it can fit into an appropriate treatment program.

Meet the Author

Jon Swartz, PT, DPT, is a physical therapist located at Aurora Sports Health in Racine, WI. 

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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