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Ready, Set, Go: Exercise Therapy for Parkinson's Disease

woman meditating in grass

Imagine your body and brain connected by a plug.

With the plug in place, your body is able to respond to every command your brain gives. Your brain says, “Walk,” and your legs move with ease. Your brain says, “Sit,” and your hips bend. Your brain says, “Write,” and your hand picks up the pen.

Now, pull that plug.

Your limbs feel stiff with every movement. A lack of balance makes sitting dangerous. And constant tremors make writing impossible. This is Parkinson’s disease.

Your brain cells deliver a hormone called dopamine that controls your muscles.

When the brain cells that deliver dopamine slowly die, messages from your brain can’t get to your muscles. This debilitating movement disorder gets progressively worse and has no cure.

While Parkinson’s can be treated with medication and surgery, symptoms can managed – and even slowed down – with consistent exercise.

Here are the benefits of exercise therapy for Parkinson’s disease:

Good for the Brain

Your brain is miraculous. It has the ability to morph. In fact, it can reorganize and change based on your experiences through a process called neuroplasticity.

Exercise can actually contribute to this. It actually helps the brain create new connections and restore lost ones. This may actually slow or even halt the advance of Parkinson’s.

Physically active people have healthier brains than those who are sedentary. Not only does exercise get your heart pumping, it also produces:

  • Improved memory function
  • Better problem-solving skills
  • Less brain inflammation
  • Proteins in the brain that foster nerve cell growth and longevity

Improved Physical Condition

Your brain is not the only thing that benefits with exercise. Your body will undergo changes as well, which can help your symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

Physical benefits include:

  • Improved posture
  • Increased strength
  • Better balance
  • Improved mobility
  • Limited physical decline
  • Restored functional ability
  • Reduced motor-related symptoms (tremors, stiff limbs, speech difficulty)
  • Reduced non-motor-related symptoms (depression, fatigue, constipation)

How to Get Moving

It’s important to begin an exercise program as close to diagnosis as possible, even if you’re not experiencing severe symptoms. You may be nervous if you haven’t exercised in a while or have a fear of falling. However, the earlier you start, the more likely you are to slow down the disease’s progression.

7 Exercises That Benefit People With Parkinson’s Disease

  1. Intensive sports training
  2. Treadmill training with body weight support
  3. Resistance training
  4. Aerobics
  5. Yoga, tai chi, and other meditative forms
  6. At-home video workouts
  7. Practicing movement strategies

“Keep these things in mind when planning your home exercise routine,” says Heather Cianci, PT, MS, at Penn’s Parkinson Disease & Movement Disorders Center:

Exercise should be physically and mentally challenging.

Exercise should be intensive enough to raise your heart rate and make you sweat.

Focus on making your exercise movements as big as possible.

Make exercise a part of your daily routine.

Work on exercises that focus on improving areas you struggle with (e.g., getting up from a chair).

Think of exercise as an additional prescription for your Parkinson’s disease. Get a daily dose, and the more often you take it, the better you’ll likely feel.

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