Exercise for Parkinson's Disease Dancing

Exercise for Parkinson’s Disease

An estimated 100,000 Australian’s are living with Parkinson’s Disease and suffer from rigidity, restricted walking ability and limitations with other motor functions.

While exercise is widely recognised for managing a variety of health conditions including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer and mental health, the benefits of exercise have only been extended to individuals with neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, in more recent years.

Why is it important to exercise? 

Current research shows that exercise is important for individuals with neurological conditions as it not only improves cardiorespiratory fitness, but also muscle strength. This in turn has shown to have positive effects on managing symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease.

Remember that better mobility may improve quality of life and prolong independent living. Exercise may also have positive effects on mood and improve brain function and make drug therapy more effective.

So, what type of exercise is best? 

There are many different forms of exercise, but what type is right for you? Every individual is different! It’s important to remember that although a combination of aerobic, resistance and balance exercises have the best overall effect, you may need to modify each element to your suit your unique circumstance.

Aerobic exercise

Aerobic exercise is described as continual movement to assist in the improvement of cardiorespiratory function. This includes walking, cycling, swimming and even dancing! Exercising to music specifically has seen some fantastic results in managing Parkinson’s symptoms. Dance for Parkinson’s Australia run specialised dance classes across Australia, providing a social environment so share stimulating activity.

Resistance exercise

Maintaining strength is not only important to keep our muscles healthy, it also helps with daily activities like getting off the toilet and getting out of the car. Resistance exercises can be performed using your body weight, light hand weights, resistance bands, various machines found in a gym setting or even using common household items like cans of food. Moving your muscle under a greater resistance promotes an increase in muscle mass. You may like to participate in group setting, a home program, or a combination of both.

Flexibility exercise

Due to increasing rigidity or stiffness, individuals living with Parkinson’s may sometimes need additional stretching exercises. Stretching of the legs, arms and torso are all important to ensure you can function at your best. Research has shown that exercising in a group setting helps with motivation to continue participation.

Exercise for Parkinson's Disease Stretching

Balance exercise

Declining balance is common as we age. Unfortunately, this is also common in individuals with Parkinson’s. Practicing both static balance and dynamic balance, in a range of different foot positions and environments are great ways to maintain and even improve your balance. Tai Chi is a great option for balance training.

Exercise for Neuroplasticity

Many studies shown that repetitive exercise is important for individuals living with Parkinson’s as it encourages what is called ‘neuroplasticity’ or ‘ability to create new neural pathways in the brain’. Making these new connections in the brain assists with managing the symptoms of Parkinson’s. Exercises include:
– Cycling
– Walking (including treadmill walking)
– Boxing
– Treatment found in the LSVT Program 
– Exercises found in a PD Warrior Program 

Guidance from an Accredited Exercise Physiologist

It’s important to contact a health professional before commencing exercise to ensure your safety. An Accredited Exercise Physiologist can assess and tailor an exercise program specific to your individual needs. They will supervise your exercises and ensure you start at a light intensity, gradually increasing your prescription based on your progress. Sometimes individuals with Parkinson’s may need to be cautious during hot temperatures, around trip hazards and if they are fatigued or unwell. Your Accredited Exercise Physiologist will adapt your program and always be there to guide you.

Click here to find an exercise physiologist near you.

Download the Parkinson’s Disease and Exercise factsheet by Exercise is Medicine Australia.

Check out the resources and latest information on the Parkinson’s Australia website.

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Written by Elise Hoyer. Elise is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist at BallyCara.