The Benefits of Exercise for Parkinson's Patients
One of the best ways to combat the effects of Parkinson’s Disease, or other movement disorders, is to exercise on a regular basis. Admittedly, “exercise” is not a word that brings to smile to everyone’s face, but once you find something you enjoy, sticking with it can have lifelong physical and mental benefits. Regular exercise pays off in many ways, such as yielding better:
- Range of motion
- Cardiovascular health
- Walking speed
- Cognitive function
Those with Parkinson’s may especially find exercise valuable because of its likely neuroprotective effect, meaning that physical activity may help slow down the impact of Parkinson’s over time.
“The benefits of exercise can aid individuals with Parkinson’s in their performance of daily activities over the duration of the condition,” says Melissa Mattioda, a UW Health neurologic physical therapist. “Variety and intensity of exercise are key, but there are few kinds of exercise that are especially important."
Suggested Types of Exercise for Movement Disorders
- Aerobic or cardio activity – such as walking (outside, inside or on a treadmill), dancing, swimming, bicycling (or stationary bicycling). Dancing is often popular with Parkinson’s patients. It is also great for improving balance.
- Strength training – such as weight lifting or exercises with stretchy resistance bands. When your muscles are stronger, your overall energy level increases as well.
- Balance – Tai chi, an ancient Chinese practice, involves a series of movements done in a slow, focused manner with deep breathing. Tai chi is just one example of an activity to help enhance your sense of balance.
- Range-of-Motion Stretching Exercises – these are very important to maintain or improve flexibility over time.
Amplitude-of-Movement Training is Key for Movement Disorders
Parkinson’s often leads people to exhibit smaller movements of the limbs and trunk. It is not unusual, for example, to see a gradual decrease in the amount of arm swing while walking.
Training based on amplitude-of-movement focuses on large, pendulum-like movements that can help the body more easily carry out essential functions. One example of this training is the LSVT BIG program, a specific type of physical therapy that must be performed by LSVT certified therapists. LSVT BIG therapy is offered at several clinics throughout south-central Wisconsin.
Another good choice is Parkinson Wellness Recovery (PWR!), a high intensity amplitude-based exercise program offered by various therapists and fitness centers throughout the greater Madison area and many other communities.
Other Dane County community-based facilities offering exercise classes for those with Parkinson’s include:
- Harbor Athletic Club (Middleton, Wis.)
- Rocksteady Boxing at Hybrid Fitness (Fitchburg, Wis.)
- Parkinson’s Exercise Class at UW Health Research Park Clinic
- Pedaling for Parkinson’s at YMCA
Before Exercising See a Physical Therapist
Before putting those sweat pants on, make sure your doctor agrees that exercise is right for you. Being safe is key, so if your doctor approves, make an appointment with a physical therapist (PT) – ideally one with expertise in Parkinson’s.
“Seeing a PT is the best way to develop a program that is just right for you,” says Melissa. “There are so many types of exercise we can do to move our bodies, but to get the most benefit in the shortest amount of time, it’s a good idea to get a professional involved. It’s also important to focus on activities that you enjoy so you are more likely to remain consistent with it over time.”
Moving Forward: Free Monthly Support and Education Group
Moving Forward is a monthly support and information group for people with Parkinson's disease, dystonia, tremor and other movement disorders. Learn more and attend one of their free sesssions
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Date Published: 02/15/2019