Exercise is important for everyone. For millennia, medical evidence has provided overwhelming support for the benefits exercise provides. In ancient China (2500-250 BC), for example, philosophical teachings encouraged participation in regular physical activity as well as noting that inactivity was associated with certain disease1. Today exercise is recommended as part of most daily routines for all people and for almost every condition from depression to arthritis to Parkinson disease. In fact, for people with Parkinson disease, exercise is even more important.
Research indicates that people with Parkinson’s can benefit from exercise in one, possibly two ways. The first benefit is symptom management, and the second is the possibility of slowing down the progression of the disease.
In regards to symptom management, research shows that regular exercise can improve many aspects of the physical decline of Parkinson’s such as gait, balance, tremor, flexibility, and motor coordination. And, it’s not just the physical, motor symptoms of Parkinson’s that benefit from exercise. Studies show that regular exercise reduces stress, anxiety and feelings of depression. It can also have a positive effect on cognitive, sleep and constipation issues. In regards to the possibility of slowing down the progression of Parkinson’s, new research suggests that exercise may offer neuroprotection; which could potentially slow the progression of Parkinson’s in the brain.
While there are many different kinds of exercises; there are three basic types of exercise. The three types of exercise are aerobic, anaerobic and, flexibility and balance.
Aerobic or cardiovascular exercise is any type of exercise that raises one’s heart rate to a target heart rate. Aerobic exercise improves and strengthens one’s heart, lungs and circulation; it can also help people lose weight and reduce the onset of some diseases (ie: diabetes, heart disease, etc). Some of the most common types of aerobic exercise include running, walking, bicycling, and dancing, but can also include swimming, skating, tennis, or any type of exercise that raises one’s heart rate.
Anaerobic or strength training exercise helps make one stronger and increases a persons’ endurance. Anaerobic exercise provides significant functional benefits including increased bone, muscle, tendon and ligament strength and endurance. It can also help improve joint function, reduce one’s potential for injury and help decrease the risk of osteoporosis. Common types of anaerobic exercises include the use of weights, strength bands, sit-ups and push-ups.
Flexibility and balance exercises enable a person to continue stay limber and enjoy a greater range of motion. Flexibility and balance exercises stretch your muscles, improve balance and can help prevent falls. Flexibility and balance exercises can range from simple, seated stretches to yoga, tai chi, martial arts, and many forms of dance.
A combination of all three types of exercise is best for overall health and well-being.
When should I begin?
Experts recommend that people with Parkinson disease, particularly young onset and/or those in the early stages, exercise with intensity for as long as possible, as often as possible. In fact, the sooner after diagnosis you begin exercising, the greater your physical reserve and self-motivation are likely to be. As the disease progresses it can become more difficult for a person with Parkinson’s to find the motivation to begin – especially if apathy sets in. Signing up for a group program/class or enlisting a “fitness buddy” can help get and/or keep one motivated and hopefully make one’s exercise experience more fun in the process.
What should I do?
For people living with Parkinson disease (or any mobility issue for that matter) oftentimes the thought of engaging in exercise can be intimidating. There are a lot of options and it is not always clear which ones are safe or who to turn to for advice. Before starting any exercise program it is always a good idea to your doctor or neurologist as they are familiar with your medical history and can help provide guidance on what options may be best for you. Your doctor (or Parkinson Alberta Client Services Coordinator) may also suggest speaking with a physiotherapist. A physiotherapist is a specialist in treating mobility issues; he/she can perform an assessment and provide specific advice tailored specifically for your needs. When possible, it is best to see a physiotherapist who has had special training and/or experience with Parkinson disease.
So what exercise option is right for you? With input from your health care provider, that is entirely up to you. Some people like to find one thing and stick to it; while others like to engage in a variety of options. Oftentimes with exercise programs if it becomes too easy or too boring a person can find themselves less inclined to take part. It is key to find something that is not only beneficial, but fun to do.
In conjunction with physiotherapists and others familiar with Parkinson disease, Parkinson Alberta offers a wide-range of exercise opportunities across the province, including our largest fundraising event of the year…our 5th Annual Flexxaire Parkinson Step ‘n Stride taking place this September 9 and 10!!. To find out where and when these programs are available please visit our website at www.parkinsonalberta.ca
Five tips to keep in mind
- Start slow and work your way up – this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put in solid effort, but by overdoing it you could seriously hurt yourself.
- Mix it up – if you find yourself becoming bored or uninterested try something new. Try yoga or an aqua class, or simply take a new walking path!
- Everything is better with a friend (or friends) – keep motivated by exercising with a friend/loved one or in a group setting!
- Raise a glass (or exercise friendly water bottle) – staying hydrated is imperative when undertaking any exercise regime.
- People with Parkinson’s who exercise do better than those who don’t.
1 The History of Fitness – Lance C. Dalleck, MS & Len Kravitz, PhD – University of New Mexico (2002)
Brandi La Bonte, Operations Manager, Parkinson Alberta