Why Movement is Important with Parkinson’s Disease

April is Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month and as an LSVT-BIG-trained therapist, I feel it is important to help spread the word about why movement is so important for those who have Parkinson’s Disease. Learn why movement is important with Parkinson’s disease.

Exercise is for everyone

Don’t get me wrong, exercise is important for everyone. We know that regular exercise helps to protect you against many chronic diseases, lowers blood pressure and improves heart health, improves your quality of sleep, fights feelings of anxiety and depression, improves memory and brain function, and helps with weight management.  For those with Parkinson’s disease exercise is essential. Exercise helps to maintain balance, mobility, and activities of daily living. Studies have shown that 2.5 hours per week of exercise can slow the progression of the disease and ease non-motor Parkinson’s disease symptoms.

Studies have found that exercise and good cardiovascular fitness are associated with better motor and cognition scores in those with Parkinson’s disease. It has also been shown that increased physical activity leads to better longevity in Parkinson’s disease symptoms. Being physically active slows the speed at which the disease progresses and can enhance memory.

Protecting the Brain

Exercise in people with Parkinson’s disease is thought to be neuroprotective. Neuroprotection is when your brain works to prevent the death of neuros or brain cells. Exercise is neuroprotective. It has been shown that people with Parkinson’s disease who exercised moved more normally than those that did not. It appears that during exercise, the dopamine is more efficiently used by the brain cells and their dopamine signals last longer. The brain is able to maintain old connections and form new ones, and restore lost ones. Therefore, it is important to continue to work the brain cells through exercise throughout the stages of Parksinon’s disease.

Another reason to keep moving is that an active and fit body can help you overcome the challenges that arise with Parkinson’s disease. Many people, after a diagnosis of a neuromuscular disorder, tend to become less active. People become scared or hesitant to do the activity they once loved to participate in. With less movement happening, the body stiffens, becomes weaker, and makes it hard to function. There are so many different types of exercise that exist and so many ways to modify exercises, people with Parkinson’s can continue to benefit from their favorite exercise mode. A lot of my time working with Parkinson’s disease patients consists of finding modifications to allow them to continue with their typical daily routine and exercise.

Exercise in different forms

There are great community-based Parkinson’s programs available that focus on group exercise. However, where I come in as an LSVT-BIG trained PT, is I can develop and work on programs to meet the specific needs of the person with Parkinson’s. If getting your socks on is challenging or if kneeling down in your garden seems to be getting harder, PT can focus on the specific movements to get you back to where you want to be moving. In Physical Therapy, I work with patients on five main exercise types: Aerobic activity, strength training, balance and multitasking, flexibility, and gait training. The fundamentals of movement are built upon and with time, more complex movements are added to the program.

Exercise is good for the brain and body when you have Parkinson’s disease. To begin an exercise program, first, consult your physician and then call to make your appointment with a Parkinson-trained therapist.

Physical Therapist at Freedom Physical Therapy Services
Molly Rittberg received her master’s degree in Physical Therapy in 2007 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and went on to receive her doctorate from Rosalind Franklin University (North Chicago) in 2009. She has since worked in an outpatient orthopedic practice where she worked with patients of all ages, injuries and disabilities. She has a wide variety of experiences including knee, ankle, foot and shoulder injuries, post-operative conditions, spinal rehabilitation and peripheral neuropathies.