Exercise helps to keep the body in good shape, pumping the heart and lungs and building muscles. More than that, it is essential for brain health too, including those who suffer from Parkinson’s disease (PD). Below are some of the best exercise for Parkinson’s disease patients. The scientific community believes that exercise helps the brain maintain old connections, from new one and restore lost ones.
In Parkinson’s, neurons, or brain cells producing the chemical transmitter dopamine, are damaged and lost. By the time they are diagnosed, patients may have lost up to 80 per cent of their dopamine neurons. Even so, the brain has not stopped fighting. Between the start of the disease and the diagnosis, it is already adapting, responding to new experiences and learn new motor skills, which is called exercise-dependent neuroplasticity.
Physical activity may, in fact, promote exercise-dependent neuroplasticity. A recent study in Britain reviewed 39 clinical trails of more than 1,800 people with Parkinson’s and reported that compared with no interventions, physiotherapy exercises for Parkinson’s disease significantly improved walking speed, functional mobility and balance. Disease severity, as measured by the unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating scale, was also reduced.
To reap maximum benefits, the exercises done have to be specific and targeted to where there are deficits. For example, strength training is used to target muscle weakness. Exercise programs will differ between individuals, depending on the type of difficulties the person encounter and the severity of his disease. Here are the best and very effective exercises for Parkinson’s disease patients.
Such a programme may be made up of several components. For example immobility training to improve functional mobility, such as walking, standing up and getting out of bed; and balance training to target issues such as falls. Flexibility exercises can also help prevent complications of Parkinson’s, such as contracture.
Medication for PD help to reduce muscle rigidity, improve speed and coordination movement and lessen tremors. As the condition progresses, a patient may experience motor fluctuations known as “on” and “off” periods. When he is “on”, the patient movements are nearly normal. But during “off” periods, when the effects of medication may have worn off, movements become slow or difficult.
People with severe “on” and “off” periods can maximise their “on” time to engage in more exercise. To make physical activities easier, physiotherapists encourage Parkinson’s patients to follow five principles.
1. Prepare in advance and pay attention to the activity.
2. Break down the activity into smaller steps.
3. Use external visual and auditory cues to guide movements.
4. Avoid dual-tasking (doing two things at the same time) if you are at risk of falls.
5. Improve the environment. Use non-slip mats in the shower or bath areas; install night lighting in the bathroom; create wider pathways through rooms by rearranging furniture; remove obstacles in one’s path, such as shoes and electrical wire, and avoid wearing slippers.
Furthermore, exercise may potentially help the non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s, such as sleep and depressive symptoms, and secondary complications of immobility, such as cardiovascular diseases and osteoporosis.
While more studies are required in this area for Parkinson’s, positive effects of exercises on cognition have been reported in older adults with dementia. Below are some of the exercises for those with the disease.
Best Exercises for Parkinson’s Disease Patients
1 – Standing Arm Lift:
This exercise for Parkinson’s disease helps to maintain flexibility of the shoulder joints. Stand with feet slightly apart and with thumbs pointing up. Raise both hands upwards as far as you can. Hold for 10 seconds before slowly lowering your hands. Repeat 15 times, at least twice daily.
2 – Hamstring Stretch:
This exercise for Parkinson’s disease helps to maintain the length of the muscles in the back of the legs, or the hamstrings. Sit up straight, bend at your hip and try to reach as far forward as possible towards your toes. Hold for 30 seconds before slowly sitting up. Repeat with the other leg. Repeat the stretch five times for each leg, at least twice daily.
3 – Butterfly Stretch:
This exercise for Parkinson’s disease patients helps to stretch the front of the shoulder joints and maintain good upright posture by activating the upper back muscles. Sit straight and place both hands behind your head. Slowly open out your elbows as far back as possible. Hold this position for 10 seconds and repeat five times, at least twice daily.
4 – Alternate Stepping:
This exercise for Parkinson’s disease patients helps to improve balance while standing. Stand in front of a step or the first step of a staircase. Have a stable support by your side but try not to hold on to the support if you can do so safely. Balance on one leg as you place the other foot onto the step. Slowly step back down to the starting position. Repeat with the other leg. Alternate both legs for 10 sets, at least twice daily.
5 – Standing Trunk Rotation:
This exercise for Parkinson’s disease patients helps to maintain the flexibility of the trunk and body. Stand up straight and hold a stick in front of you with both arms outstretched. Without changing the position of your arms, slowly rotate your body all the way to the right and then to the left. Repeat 15 times, at least twice daily.