Move It! Exercise and Physical Activity are Key to Living Well with Parkinson’s

Physical Activity and Parkinson's

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 and physical activity are key for living well with Parkinson’s.

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®!

Read More Articles Like This

Much more can be found in a powerful new edition of our free Every Victory Counts® manual. Our Every Victory Counts® manual gives people living with Parkinson’s, their care partners and their family members the tools they need to take control of their own Parkinson’s treatment through a proactive approach to self-care.

It’s jam-packed with up-to-date information about everything Parkinson’s, plus an expanded worksheets and resources section to help you put what you’ve learned into action. Color coding and engaging graphics help guide you through the written material and point you to complementary videos, podcasts and other materials on the Every Victory Counts companion website. And, it is still free of charge thanks to the generosity of our sponsors.

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Comments (5)

Exercise: the most underrated treatment for PD! So excited to see this article. Thanks for sharing it. PMDAlliance has a program called Move It! It’s a live-stream exercise class for ‘people with PD and offered three times per week at no charge! We know many people don’t have access to PD-specific exercise so we developed Move It! as part of our continuum of live-stream programs. You can access the program from anywhere in the world. To register, go to: Thanks for getting the word out about the benefits of exercise.

Have had Parkinson since 2012 and ride a stationary bike at the gym and it helps in all feelings physical.

Glad to here it, Chuck! Keep on exercising!

Yes! I believe exercise is important for Parkinson’s. Most articles portray exercise in a group setting with a trainer.
For me, living only with my friend PD for seventeen years, the first thirteen in the country where winter comes early and lasts longer than summer it has been challenging to keep up an exercise routine. The first thing I did was purchase a treadmill–the smartest move I made. It is still in with me in my basement along with the same TV some fifteen years on and is used almost every day for 30 to 45 minutes. I also have a recumbent bike that I use twice a week. Many PWP believe that you require a trainer, classes and/or the latest outfit to stay mobile. Just doing every day house work is good exercise in itself can be beneficial. You just gotta move-it CONSISTENTLY!

You nailed it, John! Especially if you are kept inside by the winter months, the best thing you can do is find an at-home exercise program. For those who don’t have a treadmill or recumbent bike, check out our Exercise Essentials Video! This is a great resource for exercise that you can do from home or on the go!

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