Parkinson’s disease is a common, progressive and debilitating disorder affecting many areas of the nervous system. Historically, it was believed that only dopaminergic neurons in the brain were affected, leading to motor impairments including tremor, rigidity (stiffness), bradykinesia (slow movements), akinesia (freezing or absence of movement) and balance problems.
However, as the neurological changes are diffuse, there are also many other motor and non-motor impairments, such as anxiety, depression, impaired cognition, sleep disorders and pain. Autonomic function may also be affected by the disease and medications.
Evidence from systematic reviews and randomised controlled trials shows that exercise, when used in conjunction with medication, can reduce symptoms, improve mobility, muscle strength and balance, reduce falls and may slow disease progression. Exercise may also have positive effects on mood, fatigue, pain, constipation and may improve cognition and sleep. These benefits can help people with Parkinson’s disease to optimise their abilities, improve their quality of life and remain independent for as long as possible. Exercise also provides a means by which individuals can actively participate in the management of their disease.
There is no evidence that one specific type of exercise is best for people with Parkinson’s disease. Programs should include a variety of types of exercise (e.g. aerobic, balance, coordination and muscle strength) and should commence as soon as possible after diagnosis – though it is never too late to start.