What Is the Role of Exercise with Parkinson's?

Exercise is important for everyone, but especially for people with Parkinson’s disease (PD). Research has shown that exercise may reduce the risk of developing PD.1

Exercise has also been shown to relieve some of the motor symptoms of PD. Regular exercise helps people with PD to maintain balance and mobility. It may even help slow the progression of the disease.1

What are the benefits?

Parkinson’s disease is a chronic, progressive condition. It causes motor symptoms like:1

  • Tremor
  • Rigidity
  • Slowed movement (bradykinesia)
  • Trouble balancing (postural instability)
  • Weakness
  • Low muscle power
  • Fatigue

The risk of developing PD increases with age. Aging is also linked to loss of muscle mass and function. Researchers have found that older adults can benefit from exercise training that improves muscle mass and function.1,3,4

In people with PD, exercise training improves their muscle strength and performance. It also has additional benefits:1,3,4

  • Reduced motor symptoms
  • Improves slowed movement and balance problems
  • Enhances the effectiveness of levodopa therapy
  • Improves heart and lung capacity
  • Improves endurance
  • Improves gait problems
  • Improves cognitive function
  • Improves quality of life

Types of exercise

There are many different types of exercise. Each kind can benefit a person with PD. In addition to variety, consistency and intensity are important. One study found that people with PD who regularly exercised for more than 6 months saw significant progress and benefits.4,5

The intensity of the exercise is measured by how much it increases heart and breathing rate. A simple way to think about this is how hard the exercise feels. People with PD who exercise with intensity experience greater benefits.4,5

Some research shows that high-intensity training may also be more effective than longer, moderate exercise. Even people in advanced stages of disease can participate in high-intensity programs.4,5

Types of exercise that can help people with PD include:1,4

  • Balance exercises – These exercises improve balance and increase lower body strength. They can also reduce the risk of falls. Examples include yoga, golfing, or dancing.
  • Strength exercises – Strength exercises improve the ability to perform many daily activities, like standing from a chair. They usually focus on 1 part of the body, such as arms or legs. They should be rotated to exercise all the major muscle groups. Strength exercises use weights or resistance. They may also be called resistance exercises. Examples include weight training or water aerobics.
  • Endurance exercise – This type of exercise raises the heart rate and breathing for an extended time. Examples of endurance exercise are walking, jogging, swimming, and biking. This kind of exercise is also called aerobic activity.
  • Flexibility exercises – Flexibility exercises focus on stretching and maintaining movement and range of motion. Maintaining flexibility helps people perform daily activities like reaching for objects from a shelf and getting dressed. Examples include dancing, yoga, or pilates.

Overall, there is no one right way to exercise with PD. People at different stages will have different routines that work for them. Finding the type of exercise you enjoy can be the most important factor. If you enjoy it, it makes it easier to be consistent.6

It is important to talk with your doctor before starting any new exercise routine. Your doctor may be able to recommend resources for starting an exercise routine. This might include good options for exercise or seeing a physical therapist.6

Written by: Juliette Daly | Last reviewed: September 2021