April is Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month. Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is the second most common degenerative neurological disorder, affecting about 1 million Americans. PD is a neurodegenerative disorder affecting dopamine-producing neurons in the area of the brain called the substantia nigra, which plays a major role in movement. Symptoms and the progression of PD vary from person to person and typically include, but are not limited to: tremors, bradykinesia (slowness of movement), hypokinseaise (reduced amplitude of movement), limb rigidity, and gait and balance problems. The cause of PD is largely unknown, and there is currently no known cure for PD. Those with PD can manage and slow the progression through use of medication, surgery via deep brain stimulator, and exercise.
Research supports exercise training with the older adult population to improve their overall health and independence. Exercises provides more than just improving muscles strength and function for those with PD. Exercises for those with PD improve postural stability, endurance, quality of movement; including walking and transfers, cognitive function, and enhances the efficiency of levodopa therapy.
There are a number of different ways and methods for exercise, however for those with PD, one of the biggest factors in showing improvement is the intensity of the exercise. Researchers found that higher intensity exercise, measured by heart and breathing rate, displays more beneficial effects for those with PD. Even for those who are later in the disease progression can still obtain benefits from higher effort exercise. On a Rating of Perceived Exertion scale or a Perceived Effort Scale, the goal for exercise in those with PD is around 7/10 or “very hard, a whole lot of effort”. Working at this higher level of intensity helps to normalize movement size and quality as well as cardio endurance.
Top exercises for those with Parkinsons Disease:
- Balance Training: A focus on improving postural stability in various environments and surfaces can help reduce fall risk.
- Strength Training: Strength training can not only help build muscle mass through the use of weights and resistance bands, but can translate to functional activity at home including getting out of a chair or climbing stairs.
- Cardio Vascular Training: Helps make activities such as walking and dancing easier by improving your heart and lungs capacity to work.
- Flexibility Training: Stretching can help improve and maintain ROM for activities like reaching and sitting.
When performed at higher intensity rates, boxing, dancing, cycling, swimming and walking are great for helping to manage PD symptoms.
It is important to speak to your neurologist or primary care physician to review any safety concerns before beginning a formal or self guided exercise program.
If you don’t feel ready to join a higher intensity program, the LSVT BIG program is a good starting point to improve balance and safety.
LSVT BIG is a treatment approached used to maximize function, movement patterns, and safety. The program is specifically designed for those with PD at any stage in disease progression.
With any form of exercise, the most important factor is picking one that is fun and enjoyable to you!