Three guys on a camping trip throw on their band t-shirts and all practice different forms of exercise together.

Exercise in the Presence of Parkinson’s

Can you spare 3-4 hours per week to try to slow down the progression of your Parkinson’s? Exercise is medicine for Parkinson’s. Think about your future from the words of Anna Quindlen, “The life you have led doesn't need to be the only life you have."

Benefits of exercising with Parkinson's

The published results (here and here) in the past two years are both compelling and convincing; exercise really is medicine for Parkinson’s. What do they show? They suggest that exercise really helps people-with-Parkinson's (PwP). How? Exercise can improve your posture, mobility, balance and can correct your gait.

Furthermore, the use of exercises that incorporate cognitive skill-based activities will help maintain our memory. We usually have one limb or one side more impacted by Parkinson’s. Thus, “forced-use” exercising can help promote neuroplasticity to regain strength/use of the affected limb/side.

The research studies indicate that strenuous aerobic exercise is possibly neuroprotective to slow the progression of Parkinson’s. Finally, for everybody, aerobic exercises provide better oxygen delivery and pump out more neurotransmitters, which helps our brain, heart, and lungs.

A notable Parkinson’s disease (PD) expert recently wrote, “As previously described, appropriate carbidopa/levodopa administration is the single most crucial medication strategy. Although no medications are proven to slow PD progression, there is substantial evidence for vigorous exercise attenuating PD progression.” J. Eric Ahlskog, PhD/MD

Reasons not to exercise

Comments I’ve heard from several folks with Parkinson’s for not beginning an exercise routine have included: “I hate sweating.”; “I can’t see myself getting down on the floor.”; “I didn’t enjoy exercising growing up, so I’m not going to like it now as an older adult.”; “I don’t have time to exercise.”; “I’m too old to exercise.”; “My Parkinson’s is too advanced to make a difference.”; “Health experts always think they know what’s best for my body.”

I know what you’re thinking about right now and what I’m asking you to consider doing. Simply stated, I want you to use exercise to counter the effect Parkinson’s has on your quality-of-life. Think about it this way. Start something today by exercising, and soon, your body will respond in kind to say thank you.

Keep it up, stay focused on your exercising, and put Parkinson’s on call and remind it that you are still in charge of your body. Give your body a gift by starting to exercise. The words of Bill Phillips tell us that “No matter who you are, no matter what you do, you absolutely, positively do have the power to change.”

Check-in with your neurologist

Be safe, always be safe. There is substantial evidence that exercise will improve your quality-of-life with Parkinson’s. However, please talk it over with your Neurologist. Next, talk it through with a physical therapist (PT) skilled in the knowledge of exercises that would work best for you. If a PT is not available, hopefully, you can find a personal trainer with expertise working with PwP. Then, you’ll be ready to begin exercising.

A personal plan for exercising

I have embraced the notion that exercise is beneficial in my approach to limiting Parkinson’s stranglehold on my body. How much do you need to do? Aim to exercise for 30-60 minutes and try to do this 4-5 times per week.

An important goal is for ~15-20 minutes of your workout try to reach the “Orange Zone” of your maximum heart-rate. This is 70-85% of your age-defined heart-rate. On the ‘Perceived Exertion Chart’ this would 7-Intense or 8-Very Intense. The goal is to challenge you, and you will definitely sweat. Please re-read the preceding paragraph; please use caution and be safe.

Exercising will allow you to corner your disorder and to help re-establish some of your life priorities. But it will not be easy; for some, it will be a new journey down an unchartered path. Think about it this way, “Hard times don’t create heroes. It is during the hard times when the ‘hero’ within us is revealed.” Bob Riley

There are many types of exercises to choose from, ranging from boxing to yoga, from bicycling to running, and from dancing to dynamic-amplitude-based activities. They all work. Choose exercises you like, and this makes it easier to think about each day. Take care of your body by exercising, and your body will take care of the rest.

Choose exercises that allow you to work on stretching and flexibility, combined with aerobic (if possible strenuous) activity, and balanced by exercises that can strengthen you. Sometimes, getting the inertia to start exercising is painful. However, any success you achieve with exercise will genuinely benefit your quality-of-life as you attempt to control your Parkinson's better.

At the bottom is a video to show two of my exercise routines. The first routine is geared to aerobic exercising (stationary bike), improving flexibility (PWR! Moves) and increasing strength (TRX). Since I love to play golf, the second routine focuses on exercises to improve my flexibility for my golf swing, increase stamina, and improve my coordination.

Exercise in the presence of Parkinson’s

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Join the conversation

or create an account to comment.

Community Poll

Have you or a loved one ever tried speech therapy?