It is widely known that exercise is important for maintaining overall health and well-being. It helps strengthen the heart and bones, boosts mood and energy, and combats illness. For people with Parkinson's disease (PD), though, it may do even more. Over time, PD can impact mobility and increasingly affect quality of life. A recent study showed that exercising just 2.5 hours per week could help delay progression of these aspects of the disease.
Ways To Keep Moving
It depends on your overall fitness level, but a good first step is to talk to your primary care physician and have a thorough checkup before starting any activity. For many people it's important to start slowly, and one good way to start is with a physical therapist. This way you can get an "exercise prescription" and work with an expert to determine what you can (and can't) do safely. Especially if you haven't been regularly exercising, it may be best to begin under the supervision of a professional who has access to professional equipment.
In short, it's the one you'll keep doing. There is evidence that exercise can help ease many of the motor and non-motor symptoms of Parkinson's. As researchers work to better understand how exercise may impact the course of PD, work with your doctor and physical therapist to design a program that meets your individual needs and symptoms.
In addition to deciding which type of exercise is appropriate, you may also be wondering how intense your workout should be. There is growing evidence that vigorous exercise may have a neuroprotective effect for people with PD. It may help to know that the terms "intense" and "vigorous" can apply to a number of aspects of exercise, including high repetition, velocity, complexity and cardiovascular response.
So, at what intensity should you be exercising? And what type of exercise should you be doing? The research hasn't yet given us exact answers. We still need large, well-designed, randomized controlled trials to establish the impact of different doses of a range of exercise types on the long-term impairments of individuals with PD. But here is what you can take away from the research that has already been completed:
- People with PD have a wide variety of symptoms, differing rates of disease progression and different mobility levels. As a result, exercise programs should be tailored to the individual. A physical therapist can help you design a tailored exercise program.
- People with PD need to develop long-term, sustainable exercise habits. Even the most advantageous exercise program is helpful only if you stick with it. Find something you enjoy!
- Try to participate in a variety of exercises. Group classes, especially those designed specifically for people with PD, can help you achieve this.
- Challenge yourself to perform complex (multi-step or multi-task) exercises. For example, both boxing and dance-based exercise require coordination, concentration, and balance.
- Include exercise that provides a cardiovascular challenge. On a scale of 0-10, try to reach an exertion level of 5-7.
- If there is something specific that you are having trouble doing, such as turns or rolling in bed, find an exercise that mimics that activity as closely as possible. Specificity of training matters!
It's always a good idea to consult with your physician before starting a new exercise program. And remember to keep moving!