Why Is Exercise Important for Those Living With Parkinson’s?
Exercise leads to numerous physical and mental health benefits. These benefits can apply to anyone, but they’re particularly helpful for people with Parkinson’s. Exercise can help slow the disease progression, and manage its symptoms. Plus, it helps maintain the ability to perform everyday activities, improves mental health, and even serves as an avenue to meet more people and make new friends.
To get the best results, work with your healthcare team, physical therapist, or one of PCLA’s exercise resources to develop an exercise program that’s safe while meeting your needs. The best time to start an exercise program is now — it’s never too late! Your long-term outcome and well-being will improve if you start exercising as early as possible within the disease’s progression.
Exercise is incredibly important no matter what stage you’re in with PD. Because Parkinson’s affects vital capabilities, exercise is essential for developing or maintaining flexibility, balance, strength, and mental acuity. Some of the symptoms that exercise helps alleviate are:
- Slow movement (bradykinesia)
- Walking problems (e.g., can’t balance when walking in a straight line)
- Stiff movement, joints, or limbs
- Involuntary muscle tremors or shaking
- Difficulty with speaking or swallowing
Staying Safe and Getting the Greenlight From Your Doctor
Before picking out exercise classes, your first step should always be to consult with your doctor. They can either give you their recommendations or refer you to a physical therapist specializing in PD.
In the early stages of PD, you’ll likely have the same fitness level as a healthy individual your age. However, as the disease progresses, you can face diminished balance, endurance, and muscle strength, making certain exercises more dangerous. Therefore, a full evaluation is essential before you embark on an exercise journey, as the wrong types or intensities of exercise can cause serious injury.
Try Out These Healthy Indoor Exercises for Parkinson’s
There’s no objective “right” or “best” exercise for people with Parkinson’s. What works for someone else may not necessarily be preferable for you. It depends on your overall health, symptoms, and previous fitness and activity levels.
Remember to stretch before every workout, avoid slippery floors, and don’t push too hard. Let’s make it fun, easy-going, and habit-forming so that you can feel better, think clearly, and get a good night’s rest!
Here are a few examples of exercises that can be good for those living with PD.
Aerobic exercises are activities that get your blood pumping. They’re designed to exert your cardiorespiratory system (your heart, lungs, and blood vessels).
Start with 5 to 10 minutes and work your way up to 30 to 40 minutes of aerobic exercise. Likewise, you can schedule these activities once a week and add more days as your enjoyment and agility increases. Let’s take a look at some great healthy examples!
Walking (or brisk walking)
Walking is a great way to get some low-impact exercise. Start by walking around your home or on a treadmill right at home. As you get stronger, you can increase the distance and pace of your walks.
Biking (or stationary cycling)
Biking is another impactful way to get some cardio exercise. You can bike at home on a stationary bike to get your reps in. The smooth motion is great for low-impact on your joints and muscles while still building strength.
Swimming greatly helps people with Parkinson’s. It is low-impact and can be done at a slow pace, which makes it easy on the joints. Swimming is also a great way to get the heart rate up and improve cardiovascular health. In addition, the water resistance can help to build muscle strength and improve flexibility.
Dance can be a wonderful way to stay active and improve your motor skills, balance, and flexibility. Also, if you can get out, it’s such a fun way to socialize and meet new people. There are many different types of dance, so you can find one that fits your interest and abilities. Check out PCLA’s Spanish Zoom dance class open to all every Monday at 9am!
Strength training is beneficial for anyone struggling with muscle weakness. Have you found that PD has diminished your strength, and even simple actions have become difficult (like rising from a chair)? Then you can build your muscle mass back up with strength training.
Use simple equipment like weights and resistance bands. It’s best to start with low weights and repetitions and gradually increase the load. If you’re also having problems with posture, focus on strengthening your back muscles.
Here are a few specific indoor exercises to build your strength:
Strength training with weights is an excellent way to stay fit and healthy, but it can be difficult for people with Parkinson’s to get started. That’s where sitting while using weights can be effective. By sitting in a chair, on a bench, or even on the floor while using dumbbells or resistance bands, you can still get a great workout. Plus, sitting workouts are also a great way to improve balance and coordination.
These squats target your quadriceps muscles (your hips, thighs, and legs). A shorter chair will make the exercise more difficult, so adjust based on your needs.
Stand up with the chair behind you and extend your arms in front of you. Slowly sit down until your backside touches the chair. Then, stand back up and repeat.
Bridges can strengthen your leg muscles. This can be helpful if you’ve had difficulty standing up or climbing stairs.
Lie on your back on an exercise mat. Keep your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Tighten or contract your stomach muscles to help you lift your bottom upward. Hold the position for at least 10 seconds, then lower yourself back to your starting position.
Agility, Flexibility, and Balance Exercises
Agility and balance exercises typically integrate the first three types (aerobics, flexibility, and strength) in creative ways. Good examples are:
Yoga, Pilates, or Tai Chi
These three forms of exercise all promote balance and body awareness.
Yoga is a great way to stretch and strengthen your muscles. Many different yoga classes are available, so find one tailored to your fitness level.
Pilates is a unique form of exercise that emphasizes controlled movements and proper alignment. The focus is on quality over quantity, so each movement is performed with control and intention. Breathing is also an important part of Pilates- you will often hear instructors cueing students to “breathe into their backs” or “engage their core.”
Tai chi is a form of martial arts that can help improve balance and coordination. It is also a low-impact exercise, ideal for people with Parkinson’s. In addition, it’s been touted as “meditation in motion,” making it great for easing worry and anxiety.
Water aerobics are typically performed in a pool. It has added benefits for balance training and can ease those who fear falling. The water provides resistance that can help to improve muscle strength and flexibility, and the low-impact movements are easy on the joints.
In addition, the water’s hydrostatic pressure can help reduce inflammation and pain. And because water aerobics is typically done in a group setting, it’s also a great way to socialize and make new friends.
No-contact Boxing or Karate
When most people think of karate, they envision a martial art that is tough, disciplined, and serious. However, karate can also be a fun and enjoyable activity for people of all ages and abilities.
Recently, there has been growing interest in using karate as a form of therapy for people with Parkinson’s disease. Studies have shown that karate can help to improve balance, coordination, and flexibility. In addition, the social aspects of karate can help to reduce stress and anxiety.
Parkinson’s affects your mind as well as your body. You can try integrating brain exercises (meditating, doing mental math, music therapy, word games) while doing physical activity to multitask. Take advantage of other activities like reading, painting, or playing board games as a break between physical activities.
You can join classes online and in person, which creates an exciting and collaborative environment for people with PD. Not only does this make indoor exercise fun, but it also inspires conversations, learning, and friendships along the way. Social interactions are a key way of keeping your mental and emotional state vibrant and energetic. Check out PCLA’s calendar to stay up to date with fun classes and group activities every month!
Tips on Exercise Intensity
Any good exercise will push you just above your limits. A simple way to measure intensity is by using a rating of perceived exertion, or RPE. There are two common scales used — 0 to 10 and 6 to 20 — but the way to use them is similar. The lowest number on the scale represents no exertion (lying or sitting down), and the highest number represents the maximum effort you can give.
Ideally, you should build up to a moderate to hard activity peak, around 5 to 8 on the 0 to 10 scale. A good way to check this level is to attempt to hold a conversation while exercising. You’re at a good spot if you feel slightly breathless and can only manage a few sentences.
Studies found that people with early PD who exercised at high intensity had nearly no decline in their motor scores after six months.
Next Steps with Indoor Exercises
Have fun exploring the variety of options with indoor exercises. Remember, exercise helps your mind, body, and spirit and is an excellent way to curb the symptoms of Parkinson’s. If you need help finding the right classes, events, or programs, don’t hesitate to contact us at PCLA. Our mission is to improve the lives of people with PD, and exercise is a surefire way to do so.