Jarrod Wilson (Exercise Physiologist – Burnie)
What is Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s Disease is a relatively common progressive neurological condition with approximately 100,000 Australians diagnosed. It affects the brain and nervous system in many ways, leading to both motor and non-motor complications including:
- Motor impairments – muscular stiffness, tremor, slow and poorly coordinated movements, freezing of movements, and poor balance.
- Non-motor impairments – anxiety, depression, pain, and neurocognitive impairments.
Why is Exercise Important for Parkinson’s Disease?
Regular exercise is crucial for Parkinson’s Disease and forms a significant part of an optimal management plan for someone with the condition. Many of the signs and symptoms associated with Parkinson’s Disease respond well to exercise. For example, exercise helps to decrease muscle stiffness, improve balance, reduce pain, and manage mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Due to the motor and non-motor impairments of Parkinson’s Disease, many people with the condition are often reluctant to exercise for fear that it may aggravate their symptoms or that their safety may be compromised; for example, they may feel unsteady on their feet and that they are at a higher risk of having a fall. Avoidance of exercise/physical activity, however, is associated with further deconditioning which can result in a loss in cardiovascular fitness, strength, and balance as well as decreased confidence. Individuals with Parkinson’s Disease who refrain from exercise are therefore at a higher risk of cardiovascular problems (hypertension/high blood pressure and cardiac events), type 2 diabetes, certain cancers and of having a stroke. The benefits of exercise also relate well to improvements in physical functioning and the maintenance of functional independence; for instance, exercise can help to preserve function with everyday activities such as getting up out of bed, getting dressed, performing housework, moving about, and getting into and out of the car.
What Type of Exercise is Best?
A combination of different types of exercise is best for someone with Parkinson’s Disease. This is important so that there is exposure to a wide range of challenging physical tasks in a safe environment. That said, there are four main types of exercise that should be considered; these include aerobic exercise, resistance exercise, flexibility exercise, and balance exercise. Below is a brief explanation of each of these types of exercise and why they can be helpful for an individual with Parkinson’s Disease.
- Aerobic exercise: This exercise is associated with continual activity that targets the cardiovascular and respiratory system. Such exercises include walking, cycling, rowing, swimming, dancing, and boxing. Aerobic exercise is important to maintain or even improve the health of the heart, lungs, and the rest of the body. As mentioned above, it is important for an individual with Parkinson’s Disease to implement strategies that reduces their risk of developing secondary health complications such as cardiovascular disease. Aerobic exercise plays a significant role to this end.
- Resistance exercise: This exercise is associated with maintenance of – or improvements in – functional capacity, and so help to preserve functional independence. Body weight exercises and exercises that utilise other forms of resistance (bands, weights, etc.) stimulate muscles to work through their full range of motion and to become stronger over time.
- Flexibility exercise: This exercise is associated with decreases in muscle rigidity and can help to keep an individual with Parkinson’s Disease mobile and functional. Stretches for the lower body, upper body, and trunk are important so that complications from muscle rigidity (pain, stiffness, and changes to body postures that can affect balance) are prevented.
- Balance exercise: Individuals with Parkinson’s Disease often have issues with their balance and can therefore be considered a higher risk of falling. Balance and proprioceptive training, that involves a range of different exercises in different contexts, should be incorporated into an exercise regime to improve balance and to increase confidence with physical activity and daily tasks. Exercise in standing, as opposed to in sitting, should always be considered if safe to do so.
If you have Parkinson’s Disease, or know someone that does, it is important to first seek assistance from a professional before commencing a structured exercise and management plan.
For guidance on what a suitable exercise regime may look like for you, please consult an Exercise Physiologist who is qualified to deliver safe and effective exercise to benefit your health outcomes. For an appointment with an Exercise Physiologist, you can call our Burnie clinic directly on 64314586.