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Parkinson’s disease is a neurological disorder that causes a wide variety of movement-related symptoms including resting tremors, rigidity in the arms or legs, slowed movement, and difficulty with walking or balance. These symptoms typically progress slowly, but can eventually cause significant disability and loss of independence.
While there is no cure for this condition, performing a Parkinson’s exercise program can help you manage your symptoms and may prolong your independence.
This article will discuss the benefits of staying active with Parkinson’s disease and will detail specific exercises for this diagnosis.
Benefits of Exercise for People With Parkinson’s Disease
Exercise has been shown to have several significant benefits for people with Parkinson’s disease. These helpful effects seem to stem from two specific neurological changes that occur when you work out:
- The release of a chemical called dopamine: This positively impacts your movement, mood, and sensation of pain.
- Growth and change in the cortical striatum: This is an area of the brain that controls your voluntary movements.
These two exercise-related changes can result in many concrete advantages for people with Parkinson’s, including:
- Improved balance
- Decreased risk of falls
- Increased gait quality
- Slowed decline in quality of life
- Increased cognitive function
- Reduced sleep disruptions
How to Exercise With Parkinson’s
Whether you’re a first-time exerciser or a lifelong athlete, the key to working out with Parkinson’s is to safely and regularly move your body in a variety of ways. Your fitness regimen should include these four main categories of exercise:
- Aerobic activity
- Strength or resistance training
- Balance, agility, and multi-task exercises
People with Parkinson’s should strive to perform aerobic activity at least three times weekly and to complete exercises from the other categories two to three times each week.
In total, the Parkinson’s Foundation suggests performing 150 minutes of moderate to
vigorous exercise weekly.
To help you achieve this goal, try these helpful tips:
- Invest in a treadmill, elliptical, or exercise bike. This will make it convenient to perform aerobic exercise from your home, regardless of the weather.
- Obtain a set of light hand weights from a local exercise shop or thrift store. These can be used for a wide variety of strength training exercises.
- Follow along with one of the many online exercise classes on YouTube that are tailored to people with Parkinson’s disease. The Parkinson’s Foundation and the Davis Phinney Foundation offer many great online exercise videos.
- Connect with a workout buddy by finding a local Parkinson’s support group associated with the American Parkinson Disease Association
Parkinson’s Home Exercise Program
You don’t need to join a gym or purchase expensive fitness equipment to stay active with Parkinson’s disease. On the contrary, there are many great exercises that you can do from the comfort of your home, regardless of which stage of the disease you are in. Take a look at some great examples in the sections below.
Early-Stage Parkinson’s Disease
These exercises appropriately challenge your body during the early stages of the disease. During this time, mobility impairments are minimal, and more vigorous exercising can typically be performed.
This at-home strengthening exercise challenges the quadriceps muscles and can be made more challenging by using a shorter chair.
- Stand with a chair behind you and your arms extended in front of you.
- Sit your buttocks backward until you tap the chair with it.
- Stand back up again and repeat three sets of 8 to 12 repetitions.
This shoulder and chest exercise can be performed against a wall for an easier variation or on the floor to make it more challenging.
- Get on your hands and toes on the floor with your hands positioned just outside your shoulders.
- Bend your elbows as you slowly lower your chest down to the floor.
- When you are nearly in contact with the ground, push back up to the starting position. Complete three sets of between 8 to 12 pushups.
Brisk Walking or Jogging
Whether on a sidewalk or a treadmill, this common aerobic exercise helps improve your cardiovascular fitness.
- Begin walking or slowly jogging at a pace where you feel your heart rate increase, but could still have a conversation.
- As you move, try to swing your arms and focus on taking larger steps. Listening to a metronome app may also be helpful for improving the quality of your gait in people with Parkinson’s disease.
- When you feel fatigued, take a rest. Try to eventually increase your walking or jogging sessions to 30 minutes at least three times weekly.
Middle-Stage Parkinson’s Disease
During the middle stages of Parkinson’s disease, movement begins to get more challenging and falling becomes more of a concern. The following exercises are good options to challenge your body while remaining mindful of your safety.
Use the bridge exercise to strengthen the leg muscles that help you stand up and climb the stairs.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor.
- Tighten your stomach muscles and lift your butt in the air.
- Hold it here for 10 seconds before lowering down again. Try two to three sets of 8 to 12 repetitions.
Jogging in Place
This safe aerobic exercise can be done with a chair or counter nearby for balance.
- Facing a sturdy surface, begin to jog in place at a pace that is challenging, but moderate in intensity. Lightly touch the surface if needed to keep from falling.
- Jog or step along with a metronome or a musical beat. When you become tired, stop and rest.
- Work up to 30-minute jogs and complete three sessions weekly.
Moving along to your favorite type of music can provide cardiovascular benefits while also challenging your balance.
- In an obstruction-free area with surfaces to grab (if needed), turn on your favorite type of music.
- In a steady but controlled fashion, begin to perform a basic three- to four-step dance pattern. Try counting loudly along to the beat or singing to help exercise your vocal system simultaneously.
- Continue to vary both the song speed and the step patterns as you dance for up to 30 minutes at a time. Do this at least three times weekly.
Advanced-Stage Parkinson’s Disease
During late-stage Parkinson’s disease, standing and walking become very difficult, and finding safe ways to exercise becomes more challenging. Fortunately, there are still many options at your disposal to strengthen and stretch your muscles.
This exercise strengthens the outer muscles of the hip that help to stabilize your
pelvis as you walk.
- Lie on your side in bed with your knees bent and your legs stacked on top of each
- Without rolling your body backward, lift your top knee up while keeping your feet in contact with each other.
- Once you’ve lifted your knee as high as you can, lower it back to the other leg. Try two to three sets of 12 repetitions.
Heel lifts are a safe and effective way to target the muscles in your calf that play an important role in your balance.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and hold onto a counter or a walker.
- Without leaning forward, lift both heels off the ground and roll up through your first and second toes.
- Once you’ve reached your highest point, lower your heels back to the floor.
- Try to do 8 to 12 heel lifts at a time and complete two to three sets.
Trunk twists help to increase the range of motion in your neck, upper back, and shoulders. This can make everyday movements and activities easier to perform.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the ground.
- Stretch both arms out at your side and gently nod your chin.
- Simultaneously turn your head to one side as you allow your legs to drop to the other.
- Once a stretch is felt, hold it for 30 to 60 seconds. Repeat this two to three times on each side.
Tips and Considerations
Staying consistent with your workouts can be challenging if you have Parkinson’s disease. Follow these tips to keep you safe and motivated:
- Arrange the room: Remove any obstacles that you may trip over, make sure the lighting is adequate, and ensure that you have something sturdy to grab should you lose your balance.
- Create a workout schedule: Try to work out at the same time each day to help create a lasting routine. Post your schedule somewhere visible for extra accountability.
- Find a family member or a friend to work out with: A workout buddy will help keep you accountable and prevent you from skipping your daily exercise.
- Mix things up: This will keep your routine fresh and exciting. The Parkinson’s Foundation YouTube page features Fitness Fridays and posts new exercise videos each week.
- Splurge and hire a personal trainer: Someone who has experience working with people who have Parkinson’s disease. While this may be somewhat costly, the trainer can design workouts specific to your individual needs or ability.
Starting a Parkinson’s exercise program can help you manage your symptoms and may prolong your independence. There are different exercises recommended for the varying stages of Parkinson’s, based on your level of mobility.
By staying active and committing to a regular workout routine, you can improve your overall outlook and maintain your safety as you cope with this challenging disease.
A Word From Verywell
Parkinson’s disease can have a significant effect on your overall movement and quality of life. That said, it is important to stay active regardless of which phase of the condition you are in.
Not only can regular exercise help improve your balance and your walking quality, but it can also combat the depression that often accompanies this diagnosis.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which Parkinson’s exercises improve balance?
Many different exercises that target the legs and trunk can help enhance your stability. Tai-chi and yoga classes are also valuable additions to your workout routine if balance is a concern. If you are worried about your risk of falling, be sure to speak to a physical therapist about a formal evaluation.
How often should you exercise with Parkinson’s?
The Parkinson’s Foundation recommends people with the disease complete moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise at least three times per week for 30 minutes. In addition, strength training, stretching, and balance exercises should each be performed two to three times weekly. Ultimately, 150 minutes of active exercise each week is suggested.
What exercises should you avoid with Parkinson’s?
There are no exercises that are specifically contraindicated in people with Parkinson’s disease. That said, exercises or activities that endanger your safety by putting you more at risk of a fall should be avoided.