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Exercise Benefits for Parkinson's Disease

Updated: Jun 21, 2023

According to the Parkinson's Foundation, someone is diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease (PD) every 9 minutes in the United States. More than 10 million people have a PD diagnosis worldwide. This number is increasing every year. PD is a progressive disorder that affects the nervous system. PD is caused by a loss of nerve cells in the substantia nigra of the brain. This leads to a reduction in a chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that supports many essential body functions, including movement, memory, and pleasurable reward and motivation. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that neurons in the brain use to communicate with one another; with the loss of dopamine, there is a disconnect between the brain and the body's movements. PD symptoms typically start mild and are barely noticeable. It tends to start on one side of the body and worsen over time. Parkinson's symptoms present differently in each individual. Some Parkinson's symptoms include, but are not limited to: bradykinesia, or slowness in movement, shuffled gait pattern, forward trunk posture, resting tremor, and flat facial affect. Non-motor symptoms include a reduced sense of smell, constipation, and sleeping disorders. Due to lessened dopamine, psychological symptoms include anxiety/depression and impulsive behavior. While the cause of Parkinson's disease is unknown, many studies are finding a connection between pesticides and the environment. Multiple things can slow the progression of PD and manage PD symptoms, including exercise, medications, and surgical procedures. This article will discuss exercise and its role in managing PD symptoms.

Exercise is an integral part of any person's health. For PD, exercise is a vital component of managing symptoms. It is essential in maintaining balance, improving movement, maintaining mobility, and keeping functional with daily activities. While all exercise is beneficial, certain types of exercise are most beneficial for PD.

Forced Intensity

Forced-intensity exercise can recalibrate the abnormal movement caused by the movement disorder. High-intensity movement has been shown to reduce tremors, joint stiffness, muscle rigidity, endurance, and cardiovascular function. Keeping your heart rate between 70 -80% during your high-intensity cycles is essential. An easier way to determine high intensity is your rate of perceived exertion. You should not be able to have a conversation if you work within the "high intensity" parameters. Workouts, including non-contact boxing and cycle classes, are great ways to get your forced-intensity exercise.

Flexibility Training

Flexibility training is a great way to combat a limited range of motion and rigidity. Flexibility exercise has been shown to improve posture, prevent stiffness, decrease dystonia (prolonged muscle contractions) and improve mobility. Yoga and generalized static and dynamic stretches are great ways to improve flexibility. The PWR moves program includes exercises performed slowly with big movements to focus on targeting rigidity.

Balance Exercise:

Falls are prevalent in the PD diagnosis. Balance deficits are common due to medications, rigidity, postural difficulties, and shuffling gait patterns. Balance training is multi-faceted; it is not just about standing on one leg. These exercises will focus on postural and core strengthening, gait patterns, weight shifting, and body awareness. Part of balance and fall prevention training also includes how to fall and to get back up after a fall. Tai chi has been shown to significantly reduce falls and slow the rate of decline in overall motor control in those diagnosed with Parkinson's. Because Tai chi simultaneously integrates elements of balance, flexibility, coordination, and multitasking, it is a great way to get all of the benefits of exercise in one class.

Brain training

Brain training will stimulate executive functioning and the information processing of the brain. Some great ways to improve cognitive health include adding multi-step exercises, task sequencing, cross-body motions, word association, and more. The combination of brain training and regular exercise can stimulate neuroplasticity in the brain, along with encouraging the production of growth factors and chemicals that affect the growth of new blood vessels in the brain and the overall health of new brain cells. Some great ways to challenge the brain with task sequencing are a Parkinson's Dance class and Parkinson's Karate.

Exercise is now considered a PD treatment with multiple benefits and few adverse effects. How much exercise? Studies show that 2.5 hours of exercise a week can significantly decrease the progression of Parkinson's disease. The earlier you exercise after your PD diagnosis, the better the benefits. While exercise can help all levels of PD, starting an exercise program in early in the diagnosis is most beneficial. At Wellness 360 Physical Therapy and Massage Therapy, we support all levels of your Parkinson's diagnosis. We can support your journey from acute care to lifelong exercise support. We can provide service with physical therapy providing you with one-to-one care based on your individual needs. We also have multiple classes specific to Parkinson's disease, including: Rock steady boxing, Parkinson's cycle, Parkinson's Karate, chair yoga, floor yoga, and Parkinson's dance. Each class is led by a team specializing in Parkinson's diagnosis. Remember, the earlier you start your exercise program, the more beneficial exercise is in reducing your Parkinson's symptoms. You can find out more at


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