Written by Gammon M. Earhart, PT, PhD
When someone asks me what they can do to live well with Parkinson’s, my number one recommendation is to keep moving. That may seem like a strange recommendation, since Parkinson’s can make it challenging to move, but the evidence supporting the importance of physical activity and exercise is hard to deny. A study of over 2,000 people living with Parkinson’s showed that those who were exercising for 150 minutes or more per week had better mobility, physical function and cognitive performance compared to those who were not exercising. The people who were exercising regularly also experienced less disease progression over the course of a year.
Exercise can convey a wide array of benefits, not the least of which is improved quality of life. Studies suggest that exercise can be helpful whether you have been living with Parkinson’s for a day or for decades. It is never too early or too late to start, and there are lots of options in terms of types of exercises and activities that are beneficial.
- Strengthening exercises can improve the structure and function of muscles, making movement more effective.
- Aerobic exercise such as walking or biking, anything that gets your heart pumping harder and faster, can improve cardiovascular health and make movement more efficient.
- Balance exercises such as those in yoga or tai chi can help to improve postural stability and may even lead to a reduction in fall risk and number of falls.
- Stretching and flexibility exercises such as those in yoga or tai chi can help reduce stiffness.
- Complex activities that require learning of new skills such as dancing may help with physical function as well as cognitive function.
Since there is no overwhelming evidence to suggest that one form of exercise is better than others, I recommend that people incorporate a variety of different types of exercises into their routines. After all, variety is the spice of life and can help to keep exercise interesting and enjoyable rather than doing the same thing day after day.
Speaking of day after day, we often underestimate the importance of our daily levels of physical activity. It is not just planned or structured exercise that matters; activity level throughout the course of daily life is also important. Being active and spending less time sitting is associated with fewer movement difficulties, along with a host of other health benefits. Ideally, we would all exercise for 150 minutes per week of exercise and get 10,000 steps per day. In reality any amount of activity is better than being inactive. Do what you can to be active and set goals for yourself to keep moving.
8 recommendations for integrating exercise into your daily life:
1. Believe in yourself.
People who are more confident in their ability to exercise are more likely to engage in exercise. You can increase your confidence by having a plan for how you will exercise in the face of challenges such as bad weather or fatigue.
2. Expect exercise to be beneficial.
The evidence is undeniable – exercise helps! And people who believe in the power of exercise seem to benefit more than people who do not expect exercise to be helpful.
3. Seek professional input to get started.
Before starting any exercise, it is advisable to consult with a medical professional. Consider asking your physician to refer you to a physical therapist who can assess your needs and help you design a program to meet your goals.
4. Put exercise on your calendar and set reminders.
Having a specific plan of when you are going to exercise and setting reminders for yourself can increase the probability that you will follow through and get moving. Even people who are already exercisers end up exercising more often when they have reminders to do so.
5. Break your exercise into chunks.
Research shows that as little as 10 minutes of exercise at a time can be effective. Squeeze in 10 minutes here and there and before you know if you will be getting the recommended 150 minutes a week!
6. Exercise with a partner or a group.
Having a friend, family member or group helps you to be accountable. People who exercise with others are more likely to stick with it.
7. Use technology to your advantage.
There are many options when it comes to pedometers, activity trackers and smartphone apps that can help you to keep track of your activity. These same devices can also help you to set activity goals, monitor your progress and connect and compete with friends.
8. Have fun!
Whatever you do, make sure you choose activities you like. One of the biggest predictors of whether or not people exercise is how much they enjoy the exercise. And, exercise can be made even more enjoyable by adding music.
Exercise is one of the most powerful tools at your disposal and will help you to live well with Parkinson’s. So keep moving and remember that Every Victory Counts®!
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