If you have Parkinson's disease – the second most common neurodegenerative disorder – regular exercise can help improve your posture, balance, and gait – aspects of mobility the disease affects. Exercise also helps reduce the rigidity and stiffness associated with this degenerative disorder.
A physical therapist can develop an exercise program for you that will be good for your heart, support good posture, and encourage trunk rotation and normal, rhythmic movements. He or she will aid you in remaining as active and as independent as your condition allows.
Exercises, including dancing, that rotate the trunk or require large, rhythmic movements help to decrease stiffness and rigidity. Marching to music while swinging your arms or playing a sport such as golf, tennis, and ping pong are other examples of rhythmic activities that require balance and reciprocal motions. Wii sports games also help improve posture and balance.
Walking not only promotes cardiopulmonary fitness, but often requires a change in pace and direction when you walk at different speeds and on different inclines. If you have an unsteady gait that can lead to falls, your physical therapist may put you on a bodyweight-supported treadmill. The device keeps you from falling and makes it easier to coordinate your movements for faster walking, as you practice taking longer strides.
Muscle Strengthening Exercise
While strength training has its benefits, even for people with Parkinson's, not everyone can handle high-intensity strength training. Since it's important to maintain muscle mass you lose as you age, activities that require a standing position help strengthen your legs. If your Parkinson's symptoms are severe and weight training isn't an option to strengthen your muscles, repetitively rising from a chair and then sitting back down is a strengthening exercise you can do that can also help to improve your balance. Another option is to wear ankle and wrist weights when walking. The use of light weights works just as well as lifting heavy weights for maintaining muscle tone, but don't make you as stiff afterward.
When to Exercise
The best time to exercise is during the time of day when your muscles and joints are less stiff. Although the time may not be the same for every individual, some people find it easier to exercise after taking a dose of medication. You will get the most benefit when the drug reaches its peak effectiveness in your bloodstream and before its effects begin to taper off.
Importance of Cooling Down
After you exercise or do physical therapy, be sure to cool down, putting your muscles through full range of motion exercise. When you have Parkinson's disease, it's important to cool down after exercise at a progressively slower pace than you would if you did not have Parkinson's to prevent your muscles from becoming stiff.