PARKINSON’S DISEASE AND EXERCISE
Did you know that for people with Parkinson’s Disease (PD) exercise is as important astheir medication? I cleared this statement with Dr. David K. Simon, Director ofParkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center at Beth Israel Deaconess MedicalCenter (BIDMC), Boston. With Dr. Simon’s approval, I added it to my Ask the Experts,Fitness Edition talk last October. That is one powerful statement! Let’s dive deeper.
To quote the Parkinson's Foundation website. “Exercise is an important part of healthy living for everyone; however, for people with Parkinson’s disease (PD) exercise is not only healthy, but a vital component to maintaining balance, mobility and daily living activities, along with a potential neuroprotective effect.” That means that exercise may slow the degeneration of the dopamine neurons.
I like to say that the 3 main components of exercise are Consistency, Variety, and
Complexity. Within those components are variables or kinds of training/exercise that
you might have heard of, cardiovascular or aerobic, stretching, balance, strength or
Cardiovascular, Cardio, Aerobic exercise: is when you get your heart beating faster than
when you are at rest. This strengthens your heart and breathing muscles, all of which
get stiff as we age and with PD. This kind of training may maintain or increase your
endurance to do things in your everyday life. Examples: treadmill walking, walking
outside if you walk briskly and/or up hills, cycling. Some fitness classes also incorporate
Functional Stretching/Balance/Mind-Body: I’ve chosen to group these three together
because they often go hand in hand. Functional stretching and yoga will enhance your
flexibility, mobility, and balance. Because muscles stiffen with PD, these forms of
exercise both stretch and strengthen your body, which in turn will help with posture and
balance. As muscles stiffen, the back often rounds, pulling the head and shoulders
forward and down. Slouching throws off the sense of balance. Examples: Yoga, Pilates,
Strength/Resistance Training: Strengthening your muscles can be done with no equipment using body weight, or with exercise equipment including dumbbells, bar
bells, tubes, bands and machines with weight stacks. The National Strength and
Conditioning Association 2019 position statement reads: “Current research has
demonstrated that countering muscle disuse through resistance training is a powerful
intervention to combat muscle strength loss, muscle mass loss (sarcopenia),
physiological vulnerability (frailty), and their debilitating consequences on physical
functioning, mobility, independence, chronic disease management, psychological well-
being, and quality of life.”
So how do we add the 3 components, Consistency, Variety, and Complexity?
Consistency – Plan exercise into your week and into your day. Write it down like you
would schedule a doctor’s appointment. Exercise or move as much as you can each
Variety – Mix it up within each exercise session or vary your routine during the week.
For instance, if you bicycled for cardio one day, choose a class in which you do a
variety of full body movements, because cycling is a repetitive motion. One day may be
strength training; another day may be cardio. Doing both in one exercise session is also
Complexity – This component is very important for both your body and brain. Challenge
your coordination by leaning new exercises and movement patterns. You don’t need to
sit at a computer to challenge your brain if you are learning something new in your
When people ask what is the best form of exercise my first response is “the one that
you’ll do!” Make movement and exercise as enjoyable as possible.
I would love to help you incorporate the 3 components and different modalities of
exercise into your life. We can figure out what you like to do and make a weekly plan. I’ll
let you know of the Boston and MetroWest classes and advise you in a one-on-one
session on which classes might be best or avoided. In a private workout session, it is
easier to challenge you than in a group class. On the other hand, in a group class you’ll
make friends and maybe even find an exercise buddy.
The sooner you start, the better!
I am a proud volunteer for the Parkinson's Foundation (PF).
The PF and I worked with Gov. Baker to proclaim April 2021Parkinson's Awareness Month.