What exercises are good for Parkinson’s disease?

Exercise is a vital part of daily life for all people who want to stay fit and healthy. For people with Parkinson’s disease, however, it is more than just about staying healthy. For them, the right exercises can improve vital aspects of daily living, such as mobility and maintaining balance.

In this article, we examine why exercise benefits people with Parkinson’s disease (PD), and how it affects the brain. We also take a look at some examples and tips for exercising with the condition.

Why is exercise good for people with PD?

Class of seniors in gym on exercise bikes cycling.

A study, known as the Parkinson’s Outcomes Project, by the same organization, found that people with PD who did exercise for at least 2.5 hours a week experienced a slower decline in their mobility and quality of life than others.

One of the main benefits of exercise for people with PD is symptom management. This includes improvement of:

  • walking
  • balance
  • tremors
  • flexibility
  • grip strength
  • motor coordination
  • posture
  • stiffness

Impact of exercise on the brain

Exercise not only helps the physical aspects of PD but the mental ones as well. It has been shown to help relieve symptoms of fatigue, mood, sleep problems, and mental health.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that controls the brain’s reward and pleasure centers, as well as regulating movement and emotional responses. In PD, there is a dopamine deficiency.

While exercise has not been shown to increase the amount of dopamine in the brain, research does show that it helps it to be used more efficiently.

Types of exercise

three senior men doing tai chi outdoors.

  • flexibility and stretching
  • aerobic, also known as cardio
  • resistance or using the muscles against opposing force

There are many different types of exercise that involve all three of these areas. These exercises include:

  • tai chi
  • yoga
  • cycling
  • skipping
  • running
  • Pilates
  • dancing

The exercise type known as “random practice” has been shown to benefit people with PDparticularly. This is an aerobic exercise that challenges the individual to change speed, activity, or direction.

It is also essential for someone with PD to vary activities. This is because people with the condition may have trouble changing activity and doing two activities at the same time. As a result, random practice and variation will help to challenge those symptoms.

Things to consider

There is no specific exercise program that someone with PD should undertake. The best exercises to do will take into consideration an individual’s symptoms.

The support charity Parkinson’s UK recommend that people with mild symptoms should focus on vigorous exercise, such as working out in a gym.

People with moderate symptoms should focus on exercises that target those symptoms. Individuals with more complex symptoms should simply focus on using exercises to help them complete daily activities that are problematic.

It is worth noting that cycling, in particular, requires both balance and reaction time. These two qualities are both impaired by PD. As a result, using a traditional bicycle could be a safety risk. Alternatives include three-wheeled bikes and tandems.

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