A: Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a chronic progressive neurologic disorder that affects 7-10 million people worldwide, according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. Parkinson’s impairs an individual’s motor function due to degeneration of neurons in the brain. As a result, people with Parkinson’s often experience slowness, restricted bodily movement, rigidity and stiffness, impaired coordination, poor posture, and/or resting tremor.
Exercise has a number of benefits for individuals with Parkinson’s. In addition to protecting neurons in the brain from degeneration (neuroprotective effect), research suggests that exercise helps preserve or increase motor function. This can lead to improvements in: flexibility and range of motion, strength, posture, walking (or gait), cardiovascular fitness, coordination, and balance. Further, exercise also can offer relief from anxiety and/or depression, which are commonly experienced by individuals with Parkinson’s.
Exercises regimens should be tailored to an individual’s regular activity level and lifestyle, as well as address the specific movement issues they are experiencing. In general, we recommend exercise programs built around a combination of stretching, strengthening, balance, step patterns, full-body range of motion, dual tasking, and cardiovascular exercises.
While exercise is beneficial, we also know it can be a struggle. Participation in any exercise program requires motivation and regular participation. Individuals must understand the potential benefits and the effort required for their exercise program to be successful. Group classes designed for people with Parkinson’s promote an environment where participants feel safe to learn new movements and skills. Additionally, class members may feel more comfortable exercising with others afflicted with the disease because they are all able to understand each other’s challenges and provide additional motivation and support.
Ultimately, exercise is a positive activity that allows people with Parkinson’s to take back some of the control and confidence they may have lost as a result of the disease. Before beginning any exercise program check with your healthcare provider. He or she can work with you to understand what your specific needs are and think about some realistic personal goals. For more information call Banner Neuro Wellness West at (623) 832-2046 or (623) 832-8791.
Melinda Peterson-Theobald is an exercise physiologist on staff at Banner Sun Health Research Institute. Her office can be reached at (623) 832-2046.