Parkinson’s Disease and Exercise – What’s the Connection?

It is well-known that exercise can protect the body from developing many important diseases. Research suggests that it may also have an impact on Parkinson’s development and that the lack of exercise may increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s. For those who have already developed Parkinson’s, exercise could be a medicine.

Learn here about the link between Parkinson’s disease and exercise, and the types of exercise that could benefit Parkinson’s patients. 

parkinson's and exercise

Parkinson’s disease is a growing health concern that affects over 10 million people around the world. It is a brain disorder that develops when the brain lost a certain group of cells. These cells produce dopamine, which is a neurochemical that controls movement. Typical symptoms of the disease include tremor, slowness of movement, rigidity, and abnormal gait.

While there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, there is medication available that can treat the symptoms and ultimately comfort daily functioning for a certain time In addition to medication, lifestyle changes may help to improve the symptoms.

Parkinson’s and Exercise – is There a Link?

The idea that exercise might have a role in Parkinson’s disease is not new. Researchers have been trying to find a connection between Parkinson’s and exercise for many years. They think that those people who do regular exercise are less likely affected by the disease than those who don’t.

A study published in the Journal of Neurology suggests that higher levels of physical activity may reduce the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. In this follow-up study, 48,574 men and 77,254 women provided information on physical activity in early adulthood. During the follow-up, a total of 252 (male) and 135 (female) incident Parkinson’s cases were identified. The study found that the people (the men) who didn’t develop the disease were mostly involved in doing higher levels of physical activity.

Similarly, the meta-analysis included 8 prospective studies has concluded that physical activity, especially moderate to vigorous physical activity, may have an inverse relationship with a risk of Parkinson’s.

While the precise mechanism of how exercise could protect someone from developing Parkinson’s is unknown, research suggests that it may limit abnormal changes in dopamine neurons and contributes to the healthy functioning of brain parts involved in the movement.

What About its Beneficial Effects in Parkinson’s Patients?

Exercise is as important as medication for Parkinson’s patients. It improves mobility, balance, and overall quality of life. Research suggests that doing regular exercise can possibly slow the disease progression.

A systemic review that summarized the results from 7 different studies concluded that Parkinson’s patients can improve their physical performance and activities of daily living through exercise. 

Similarly, a study that was designed to evaluate the effectiveness of exercise programs in 34 individuals with Parkinson’s concluded that the intensive and adaptive exercise programs improved balance and mobility in patients.  

Besides motor functions, doing regular exercise can also improve the overall brain health and cognitive performance of a patient. A study published in the Journal of Neurocase, The Neural Basis of Cognition showed that cognitive and language function in people with Parkinson’s can be improved by exercise. The study provides evidence that participants in the case study demonstrated improvements in executive function, working memory, and language production following 8 weeks of aerobic exercise intervention. 


What Kind of Exercise is Good for Parkinson’s Patients?

Any form of aerobic exercise is beneficial: walking, jogging, stretching, cycling, and swimming are easy and good for Parkinson’s patients. These kinds of exercises help improving motor symptoms, walking speed, balance, and strength. Plus, they also reduce the signs of depression and fatigue.

There have been some specific training programs designed for Parkinson’s patients and researchers think they might be more effective. These are the following.


Big and Loud Therapy Training

It is considered as a standard, research-based treatment protocol that is designed to address movement and speech problems in Parkinson’s disease. The training includes two segments- the Big that involved movements and the Loud that involved speech. This is why it is known as Big and Loud therapy. 

The Big segment of the training involved the large extended movement of hands, legs, and exaggerated trunk rotation; also known as very large awkward feeling movements. These movements can be performed either seated or standing. The goal is to increase the step size, the overall posture, and arm movement.

The Loud segment focused on improving the articulation and vocal quality so that the patient’s speech becomes clear and louder. During the training, the patients are trained to say “ah” in loud good quality voice going high in pitch. Besides, the patients are trained to say phrases that they used daily in a loud voice. 

Learn more about this training program by clicking here.


Resistance Training 

Resistance training is a mix up of upper and lower body workout that can be performed using weight machines, free weights, your own body weight. It becomes an increasingly important exercise program for Parkinson’s patients. It may improve balance and coordination in Parkinson’s patients.

A study published in the Journal of Movement Disorders has reported that resistance training caused muscle strength gain and mobility improvement in persons with Parkinson’s. In this study, Parkinson’s patients were allowed to perform a high‐force eccentric resistance training program for 45 to 60 minutes 3 days/week for 12 weeks. Each training session included light calisthenics and stretching, walking on a treadmill, riding a (standard) cycle ergometer, and lifting weights (both machines and free weights) with the upper extremities. Muscle size, muscle force production, and mobility were examined at the end of the training program. A significant improvement was noted in these parameters.


Balance Training

Balance training involves exercises that target the muscles that are important for posture, balance, and gait. It can be done at the gym or at home.

Research has shown that doing balance training routinely has positive effects on mobility and reduces falls in people with Parkinson’s disease. It also improves the psychological health of a patient.

A study published in the Journal of Neurologic Physical Therapy concluded that highly challenging, and progressive balance exercise program is effective for improving balance and reducing the fear of falling in patients.

In another study, which was published in the journal of Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, the effectiveness of balance training alone or combined with resistance training was assessed in 15 Parkinson’s patients. The patients underwent 10 weeks of high-intensity resistance training (knee extensors and flexors, ankle plantarflexion) and/or balance training, 3 times a week on nonconsecutive days. In the end of the study, it was found that both groups caused improvement in balance, although muscle strength was increased in the combined group.

Disclaimer: The information shared here should not be taken as medical advice. The opinions presented here are not intended to treat any health conditions. For your specific medical problem, consult with your health care provider.

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