You Can’t Exercise Your Way Out of Poor Social Connections

Value of social connections in Parkinson's - Davis Phinney Foundation

Written by Dr. Sarah King, PT, DPT

Have you ever heard the phrase, you can’t exercise your way out of a bad diet?

Well, the same can be said for exercising your way out of poor social connections. It can’t be done.

I’ve witnessed the power of exercise on a near-daily basis at my Parkinson’s physical therapy practice. Clients walk in using their cane, and by the end of the session, they are skipping down the hallways. Growing evidence continues to show that one of the most powerful ways to improve both motor and non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s is to get into a regular, effective exercise routine as close to diagnosis as possible.

However, it turns out there may be something even more important than exercising when it comes to slowing the progression of your Parkinson’s symptoms.

At the most recent World Parkinson Congress, Dr. Laurie Mischley shared an interesting finding of her research: answering “true” to the statement “I am lonely” is now the single biggest predictor of the rate of your Parkinson’s progression.

“If you are exercising six days per week, 30 minutes at a time, and you are lonely, it’s a wash.”
– Dr. Laurie Mischley

Dr. Mischley’s research centers around discovering the nutrients correlated with slower and faster progression of Parkinson’s disease. Nutrients can, of course, include vitamins and minerals found in your food, but also expand to include oxygen, water, movement and social health variables.

She’s also finding that those who answer “true” to the statement, “I have a lot of friends” fare much better in the long run than those who answer “false”.

Exercise still plays a huge role for those with Parkinson’s and Dr. Mischley continues to recommend daily exercise for at least 30 minutes per day, as this type of routine has also been correlated with a slower disease progression in her research. However, combine it with social interaction and you’ll set yourself up for even better results.

Don’t have time for exercise and friends? Here are three ways to kill two birds with one stone!

3 ways to make exercise a social activity

Find a walking buddy

Ask a friend or two to join you for a morning walk a few days per week. Walking poles can help improve arm swing and get your heart rate up, which is critical for brain change. For an added bonus, grab a cup of coffee or green tea (two beverages that are also correlated to slower progression) and catch up before or after your vigorous 30-minute jaunt.

Join an exercise group

Parkinson’s exercise classes are popping up all over with new opportunities opening all the time. Try searching “Parkinson’s exercise class near me” to find one in your area. No luck? Check out the classes offered at your local YMCA, fitness center or gym. There is no “best” type of exercise for Parkinson’s, so try whatever piques your interest. Zumba, swimming, yoga or cycling are all great options, so long as you say “hi” to a classmate while you’re there. And, as always, take the time and energy required to vet your instructors. You have different needs than the general population; so, make sure your instructors not only have specific training related to Parkinson’s but that they understand where you are in your process. Safety is critical to your health and the last thing you need is to get injured.

Train for a race

Gather up a team and raise money for a great cause while you get your exercise in. Find a local walk, run or bike ride and set up weekly training sessions leading up to the race. If you’re feeling adventurous, choose a race in a city you’ve never visited and reach out to their local Parkinson’s non-profit to make a sister team. Meet up over the race weekend for sight-seeing or dinner. It may feel uncomfortable, but you’ll likely make many valuable friendships along the way.

About Dr. Sarah King, PT, DPT

Sarah is a passionate Parkinson’s advocate who founded Invigorate Physical Therapy & Wellness, an online wellness practice 100% specialized in Parkinson’s disease, to help her clients get out of overwhelm and into action by connecting them with the tools and support they need to thrive over the course of their Parkinson’s journey. She lives in Austin, Texas with her husband (and favorite human), Matt.

Learn more about the 7 Elements of an Effective Parkinson’s Exercise Program she teaches to all her clients.


Want More Practical Articles Like This?

Much more can be found in our latest edition of Davis Phinney Foundation’s Every Victory Counts® manual. It’s 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. Request your copy of the Every Victory Counts manual by clicking the button below.

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