Parkinson disease and exercise: How does regular exercise benefit people living with Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disease that affects our brain and nervous system.  It is in fact the second most common neurodegenerative disease, just behind Alzheimer’s disease.  It causes a degeneration of a part of our brain called the basal ganglia, which lend us the ability to do certain tasks automatically, such as walking.  The disease could also manifest in different ways physically, such as shakiness of the hand and rigidity throughout the joints.  Another common sign and symptom is the reduction in speed of movement and impaired balance.

That’s why Parkinson’s disease could cause a loss of function and independence, which would compromise a person’s health and quality of life.

More than just your body!

Though Parkinson’s disease is not only a physical disease.  It is complicated and affects the body in multitude of ways, which include altering cognitive functions and mood.  Changes to cognitive function and mood can affect an individual’s ability to socially interact with others. 

How to manage Parkinson’s disease?

There are several ways to combat the affects of Parkinson’s disease. Generally speaking, treatment may involve medicine, dietetic intervention, speech therapy and also exercises. 

As there are no cure for Parkinson’s disease, exercise is crucial to helping us improve our quality of life. Structured training can help improve walking ability, strength, balance, and cardiovascular system, which are all impacted as a result of the disease. It is recommended to start with just 15 minutes of exercise and progress the duration to 2.5 hours per week to help combat and slow the progression of the disease. If you cannot handle as much exercise per week, just remember that something is better than nothing!

Could exercise help with changes to the brain?

Exercise not only improves us physically, but it can help the brain and nervous system to rebuild connections that is lost due to the progression of the disease.  Exercises therefore plays an essential role in a person’s rehabilitation in Parkinson’s disease. Exercise can play a role in improving memory, concentration, reasoning, and energy. 

What exercise is the best?

It is recommended for patients to incorporate a variety of exercises in their routine, but the specifics would depend on the patient’s symptoms, severity of disease and the goal of the patient.  Generally, it would include a mixture of strength training to improve strength and power, aerobic fitness to help maintain cardiovascular fitness and balance exercises to reduce the risk of falls.  Other than that, exercises could help with specific issues such as tremors and freezing of gait with task specific and gait training, and physical therapy may be able to help with rigidity of the body. It is always advised to participate in exercise that you enjoy to help with persistence of the behaviour. 

If you would like to combat the physical and cognitive deficits associated with Parkinson’s Disease, please get into contact with one of our Physiotherapists or Exercise Physiologists to help you set up an exercise program that is tailored to your needs! 

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