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Exercise Recommendations For Individuals With Parkinson’s Disease

As a fitness coach and health educator, I constantly seek further reasons to promote exercise. We know it helps with maintaining a healthy body weight and is important with overall health and the offset of chronic illness and disease.

But what about Parkinson’s Disease, a syndrome characterized mostly by muscle tremors and an overall lack of muscle control?

In today’s post we’ll be discussing the role of exercise on Parkinson’s disease along with recommendations for exercise prescription.

More after the jump…

What is Parkinson’s disease?

Parkinson’s Disease mostly affects people over the age of 50, causing muscle spasms (tremors), lack of coordination, cognitive dysfunction (dementia), and a myriad of other symptoms as the disease progresses.

It is a degenerative condition, attacking the central nervous system and destroying the nerve cells that create and emit the neurotransmitter dopamine.

The reason this is problematic is that dopamine plays a key role in muscle control (as well as mood, learning, and sleep), so when dopamine is not produced (and thus not released), the body experiences a lack of muscle control, a decline in learning and cognitive abilities, mood changes (depression), and an inability to sleep.

But there is some good news: exercise can help!

Aerobic exercise is beneficial in so many ways to everyone, regardless of health status. It strengthens our hearts, our lungs, lifts our moods, keeps our waists trim, improves our posture, increases flexibility, and decreases stress.

Resistance training is also beneficial, strengthening our muscles, our bones, and increasing our coordination.

So when you put the puzzle pieces together, it would make sense that exercise of both varieties help with Parkinson’s disease, both symptomatically and physiologically.

In specific, exercise has been shown to improve dopamine levels in our brain, so naturally it would help counteract the degeneration of dopamine that PD causes, in addition to helping with all the aforementioned symptoms.

balance and coordination

Although I’ll preach the use of a “prescription” of exercise over a prescribed drug any chance I can, it’s important to discuss with your doctor the addition of exercise to your current treatment of Parkinson’s, as well as possibly consult with a certified personal trainer or physical therapist knowledgeable in working with clients who have PD.

The main considerations for individuals with PD who would like to start exercise relate primarily to balance and coordination, but also to general strength and flexibility.

For example, walking outside may be easier than trying to walk on a treadmill, as treadmills require higher levels of coordination. Start with easier exercises first, especially if you don’t have a history of fitness training.

As your muscles and nervous system respond to the training you do, you can gradually increase to other activities. Any exercise that would be considered “functional exercise” is beneficial as it will help with every day human movement patterns.

Exercise a little bit every day

However, if you are at a greater risk of falling, try sitting down while you do resistance training and using the recumbent bike for your cardio. Also, you don’t want to continue any exercise that causes pain.

Exercising a little bit every day regardless of the type or amount is beneficial, as it challenges your muscles and nervous system daily to relearn certain functions and gain strength.

As a goal, aim to exercise at least 15 minutes every day if possible, and as your function and abilities improve, you can adjust your time and activities.

Overall, having Parkinson’s Disease is individual specific. Some people may be able to do more activity than others based on the disease progression and your overall level of health.

Consult with your physician and a certified personal trainer to see about an exercise regiment that will work best for you.

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Personal Training Studios. He specializes in helping people achieve a body transformation with burst training exercise and whole food nutrition. You can receive a FREE no-obligations trial of his Charleston personal fitness programs and start experiencing the Shaping Concepts difference today.

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