What role does exercise play in the management of PD?
Exercise is an important part of healthy living for everyone. However, for people with PD, exercise is not only healthy, but a vital part in maintaining balance, mobility and daily living activities. Science supports that exercise is important to good outcomes in PD and is associated with a better sense of well being, even across stages and severity of the disease. Exercise can benefit in two ways:
Symptom management. Research has shown that exercise can improve gait, balance, tremor, flexibility, grip strength and motor coordination.
Slowing disease progression. There is a strong consensus among physicians and physical therapists that improved mobility decreases the risk of falls and some other complications of Parkinson’s. They agree that practicing movement — physical therapy, occupational therapy, and participating in an exercise program—improves mobility.
How Does Exercise Benefit Parkinson’s disease?
Exercising does not change the amount of dopamine nor the number of neurons in a Parkinson's brain. But it has been discovered that exercise helps brain cells to utilize dopamine more efficiently. Exercise can also improve the efficiency of how of dopamine signals are received in the brain.
The best way to achieve these benefits is to exercise on a consistent basis. According to several studies, people with Parkinson's enrolled in exercise programs with durations longer than six months, regardless of exercise intensity, show significant gains in functional balance and mobility as compared to programs of only two-week or ten-week durations.
What kinds of exercise are helpful for people with PD?
Any exercise will be beneficial. It is important to consult with your physician and, if available, a physical therapist that understands PD before starting any new exercise regimen.
Formal exercise programs balance several different fitness criteria: strength, balance and coordination, flexibility, and endurance. Each of these areas has been demonstrated to provide a benefit to people with PD, and none should be ignored. Achieving a balance that works for you and that engages you in a program that you can start, maintain, and, hopefully, expand upon is the goal.
Examples of beneficial exercise programs for people with PD include:
Intensive sports training
Treadmill training with body weight support
Alternative forms of exercise (yoga, Pilates, tai chi, boxing)
Home-based exercise (workout tapes)
Practice of movement strategies
Always warm up and cool down properly, exercise in a way that is safe for you, and know your limits. There are therapists and exercise programs who can help with PD-safe exercise that works best for you and your specific body.