What Is the Role of Exercise with Parkinson's?

While exercise is important for everyone, exercise plays a crucial role in people with Parkinson’s disease (PD). Research has shown that exercise may have protective effects, reducing the risk of developing PD, and exercise has also been shown to relieve some of the motor symptoms of PD. Regular exercise is essential for people with PD to maintain balance and mobility, and it may help slow the progression of the disease.1,2

Benefits of exercise for people with Parkinson’s disease

Parkinson’s disease is a chronic, progressive condition that causes debilitating motor symptoms: tremor, rigidity, bradykinesia (slowed movement), and postural instability (balance impairment). People with PD frequently have weakness, low muscle power, and fatigue.

The risk of developing PD increases with age, and aging is associated with loss of muscle mass and function. Researchers have found that older adults can benefit from exercise training, improving their muscle mass and function. In people with PD, exercise training not only improves their muscle strength and function, it has additional benefits:

  • Reduced motor symptoms, improving bradykinesia, and postural instability
  • Enhances the efficacy of levodopa therapy
  • Improves heart and lung capacity
  • Improves endurance
  • Improves gait disturbances
  • Improves cognitive function
  • Improves quality of life3

Types of exercise

There are a number of different types of exercise, and each kind can benefit a person with PD. In addition to a variety in types of exercise, consistency and intensity are also important to get benefit from exercise. People with PD who have participated in regular exercise for durations longer than six months have seen significant progress and benefits. The intensity of the exercise is measured by how much it increases heart rate and respiration rate. People with PD who exercise with intensity experience greater benefits. Recent research indicates that high-intensity interval training may be more effective than longer periods of moderate intensity. Even people in advanced stages of disease can participate in these high-intensity programs.2-4

  • Balance exercises are those that aim to improve balance and increase lower body strength. Balance exercises are particularly important to reduce the risk of falls by improving the way a body can adjust and maintain position.
  • Strengthening exercises build muscle mass, which improves the ability to perform many daily activities, like standing from a chair. Strength exercises usually focus on one part of the body, such as arms or legs, and should be rotated to exercise all the major muscle groups. Strengthening exercises use weights or resistance, and they may also called resistance exercises.
  • Endurance exercise, or cardiovascular exercise, raises the heart rate and breathing for an extended period of time. Examples of endurance exercise are walking, jogging, swimming, and dancing. This kind of exercise is also called aerobic activity.
  • Flexibility exercises are those that focus on stretching and maintaining movement and range of motion. Maintaining flexibility is critical to maintaining the ability to perform daily activities like reaching for objects from a shelf and getting dressed.5

Some types of exercise have shown particular benefits to the needs of people with PD:

  • Cycling, such as on stationary bicycles, helps reduce the symptoms of PD, particularly when cycling at higher rates.6,7
  • Dancing helps people with PD maintain mobility, flexibility, and balance.6
  • Some people with PD find that playing sports helps them stay active and maintain their mobility. Sports that people with PD have found beneficial include boxing, swimming, and gymnastics.6,8

Note that it is important to talk with your healthcare provider before starting or stopping any new treatments, including exercise routines.

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Written by: Emily Downward | Last reviewed: May 2021