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The benefits of exercise for Parkinson's Disease

The benefits of exercise for Parkinson's Disease

The benefits of exercise for your overall physical and mental health are well documented. Exercise can reduce fall risk, improve cognitive function, strengthen social ties, and manage chronic conditions as we age. For individuals with Parkinson's disease, exercise is more than just a part of healthy aging; it plays an essential role in maintaining and improving the quality of life.

Parkinson's disease is a progressive neurologic disorder best known for how it affects muscle control, balance, and movement. It can also cause many other effects on your senses, thinking ability, mental health, sleep, and more.

Research shows that targeted exercise combined with medication slows the motor deterioration associated with Parkinson's disease. Regular exercise is reported to improve many Parkinson’s symptoms, including gait, balance, flexibility, posture, motor coordination, endurance, memory and cognition, and sleep quality. Additionally, studies have shown exercise to reduce falls, gait freezing, depression, and anxiety.

Data from the Parkinson's Foundation Parkinson's Outcomes Project, the largest-ever clinical study of Parkinson's, suggest that people with Parkinson's Disease do at least 2.5 hours of exercise every week for a better quality of life.

Given these encouraging studies, the next logical question is, what type of exercise is best? The type of exercise that's best for you depends on the symptoms you're experiencing and your challenges.

Different exercises are effective at targeting certain symptoms of Parkinson’s. For example, aerobic exercises such as swimming, walking, biking, rowing, or water aerobics help improve fitness and aspects of motor function.

Strength training exercises help build muscle mass, and maintaining strong muscles makes it easier to perform daily activities. Exercise such as yoga, ta-chi, dance, boxing, and pilates improve flexibility, agility, and balance.

There is some evidence that exercise can have a neuroprotective effect. Neuroprotection refers to the ability of a treatment to preserve the neurons in the brain from deteriorating – and that is necessary to slow down or halt the progression of diseases like PD in which nerves degenerate and die. Recent small-scale Parkinson’s studies have suggested that high-intensity exercise, in particular, can not only slow the disease progression but possibly reverse neurodegeneration.

Of course, Parkinson's disease in itself presents challenges to exercising. These challenges will change throughout your lifetime. Before starting an exercise program, you should discuss it with your physician and get a physical therapy referral. Why? Physical therapists are experts in movement, and a physical therapist with advanced credentials in Parkinson’s rehabilitation is best placed to make recommendations about safely incorporating movement and exercise into your treatment plan.

A physical therapist with neurological experience can help build a program tailored to you and your needs and make recommendations about the types, intensity, and frequency of exercises that would benefit you. In addition to mainstream exercises, your physical therapist may also recommend enrolling in PWR! Moves® or LSVT Big and Loud: evidence-based therapies that incorporate dynamic movement to address Parkinson’s symptoms.

About the Author: Leslie Ritter, MSPT, DPT, treats patients at Allied Services Luger Scranton Rehab Center. She is experienced in treating Parkinson's disease and other neurological conditions in inpatient and outpatient rehab settings. 

Specialized Rehab for Individuals with Parkinson’s Disease

Our credentialed, experienced staff provides specialized physical, occupational, and speech therapies tailored to each individual’s needs and goals. Therapy should begin at diagnosis and occur in regular bouts throughout life to ensure patients experience optimal function and quality of life.

We offer many services, including patient and family support groups, speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and exercise programs. The goal of treatment is to help you keep the highest possible function at each stage of the disease.