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Get Moving!

Article written by Jackie Hunt Christensen.

As someone newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s, you may not know about the importance of regular exercise. Basically, any kind of exercise you do consistently will help improve your Parkinson’s symptoms and overall health. Whether you are a beginner or an avid exerciser, it is important to create some new fitness goals. To do this, you will want to work with your healthcare team to develop a routine that is right for you.

Questions and answers about exercise and Parkinson’s disease

Though you may be tempted to cut out exercise altogether, doing regular exercise such as yoga, walking or swimming can actually help improve flexibility and mobility and reduce muscle and joint pain.  In fact, more and more studies are finding that regular physical activity offers therapeutic effects for people with Parkinson’s. Here’s why:

  • There is a lot of truth to the saying “Use it or lose it.” Regular exercise builds muscle and bone and improves flexibility and balance.
  • Vigorous (aerobic) exercise helps to maintain lung capacity.
  • Many forms of exercise keep you socially active.
  • Exercise improves mood and boosts self confidence.
  • Exercise might slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease.

I have never been an athletic person. How do I start exercising?

First things first — get your doctor’s okay. Be sure to consult with all specialists you see.

Start slowly. If you try to do too much too quickly, you are more likely to become injured, especially if you are attempting something unfamiliar.  If it hurts, stop.

If you have access to a personal trainer who is familiar with Parkinson’s disease, ask him or her to tailor an exercise program to your health needs and preferences.

What type of exercise is best?

Today, most neurologists agree that “whichever type you enjoy and thus will do regularly” will be the most beneficial. The key is to build physical activity into your everyday routine. Here are some activities you might want to investigate:

  • Golf is still a viable form of exercise and social activity for most people with Parkinson’s.
  • Walking is a great choice because you can do it almost anywhere, and all you need is a good pair of walking shoes! To stay motivated, invite a friend to join you. 
  • Bicycling is something that can be done by almost anyone. If your tremors or balance issues interfere with riding a conventional bike, try a recumbent trike or a tandem bike. If you are unable to ride outside, consider riding indoors on a stationary bicycle.
  • Dancing may not look like exercise, but it can provide a thorough physical and mental workout. There are several dance programs for people with Parkinson’s. They include ballroom dancing programs, Dance for PD® and Tango for Parkinson’s. One caution: if you are not taking a class through a clinic or a Parkinson’s group, it is a good idea to check the instructor’s qualifications and experience before signing up.
  • Swimming and other water programs offer a weightless environment in which to exercise and stretch. Many health clubs, hospitals and YMCA\YWCAs have warmer pools for their classes with people with arthritis or Parkinson’s.
  • Tai chi and qi gong (pronounced chi kung) are two ancient Chinese practices that involve movement, breathing and meditation. They have been shown to improve both motor and non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s. Most programs for people with Parkinson’s offer seated as well as standing exercises to accommodate varying levels of physical stability.
  • Yoga for Parkinson’s is available at many NPF Centers of Excellence and movement disorder centers. Having an instructor who is specially educated in Parkinson’s is essential.

I have arthritis too, so it is difficult for me to stand. Can I still exercise?

Yes, but first check with all of you doctors to get their approval. Then look for classes such as seated dance, tai chiand qi gong, or yoga in your area. Swimming or water aerobics for arthritis might be beneficial, too. You can also incorporate some exercises into your activities of daily living (ADLs), such as getting dressed, walking across the room, etc.

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