August 9

8 Tips for Staying Active with Parkinson’s Disease

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Are you struggling to stay active because of Parkinson’s disease?

Coping with the symptoms of Parkinson’s is challenging. You want to make it to that golf game with your buddy or your weekly book club meeting at the library, but it’s getting harder to walk, and your muscles are really stiff.

You find yourself dragging your feet or taking shorter steps. The stiffness in your muscles is causing you significant pain and limiting your movements. You might even find it hard to keep your balance.

These are all typical symptoms that someone with Parkinson’s disease might experience. Your symptoms could be pretty mild, or they might be severe.

Don’t let Parkinson’s disease stop you from enjoying the activities you love. Keep reading for 8 tips to help you maintain an active lifestyle.

8 Tips for Staying Active with Parkinson's Disease

I often receive emails from my readers with questions about their loved ones or themselves. The following is a question from one of my readers.

Reader’s Question

“I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease three years ago. I am starting to notice the impact on my balance and golf game. My neurologist mentioned that there are exercise programs, but I have a hard time sticking to them. Is there something you would recommend?”

Expert Answer

As we journey through life, a new diagnosis can challenge the day-to-day routines and activities that we have become accustomed to and enjoy. Your mindset of wanting to remain active is key to finding ways to adjust, and that will serve you well both physically and mentally.

Your neurologist or primary care physician can guide you through the medical side of Parkinson’s and possible treatment options, so let’s focus on what you can do to remain proactive and continue living life.

As you suggest, exercise can be very important. Read the following article for more tips on how you can stay active when living with Parkinson’s disease.

1. Participate in a Movement or Therapy Program

Many people participate in more formal movement or therapy programs. These may require a written order from your doctor to enable utilizing insurance coverage. You can simply ask your provider for this documentation. The therapist can help you determine the best program for you and how to maintain it going forward.

North Carolina has many therapists trained in LSVT Big™, or “Training BIG,” a structured training program that specifically targets increasing amplitude of limb and body movement for those with Parkinson’s disease.

Many clients I have worked with reported positive results and found it beneficial to maintaining movement. Other physical or occupational therapy programs may be able to specifically target your golf game and individualize a program to you.

Recommended Reading: Parkinson’s: What You Need to Know

2. Participate in a Movement Disorder Clinic

Movement disorder specialists have additional training to help them treat patients with Parkinson’s and other types of movement disorders. These types of doctors have an extensive amount of knowledge of Parkinson’s disease, and it’s effects on the human body.

Movement disorder specialists, like these, host specialized clinics to help their patients. There are Movement Disorder Clinics throughout the state that specialize in programs for individuals living with Parkinson’s disease — like you. Duke and UNC are both good examples. 

The benefit of exploring these resources now is that you can start to make modifications to your everyday life that will help you stay active and be prepared for future challenges. 

With an open mind and good support, you can continue to modify activities as needed to meet your needs.

Recommended Reading: Parkinson’s Disease Is More Than a Tremor

3. Start A New Exercise Routine

Aerobic exercises have been shown to be helpful for Parkinson’s symptoms. A recent study found that Parkinson’s patients who participated in a bi-weekly tango class experienced improved motor systems, balance, and walking speed.

Don’t want to tango? Don’t worry. There are several other activities you can try to work in some aerobic exercise into your routine. Walk on a treadmill, take tai chi, join a yoga class, play volleyball, or go swimming.

Resistance exercises are another option that is helpful for Parkinson’s patients. Do push-ups, squats, or lift weights. Stretch your muscles frequently to keep them limber and increase your flexibility.

“How often should I exercise?” is likely your next question. All adults should exercise for at least a minimum of 2.5 hours per week. You can easily fit that into your routine by breaking it down into 30 minutes, five days per week.

The longer you can manage to stick to your exercise routine, the more benefits you are going to see. People who participate in an exercise program for 6 months or longer see an increase in their balance and mobility.

4. Exercise Safely

Were you recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s? If so, make sure to talk to your doctor before starting an exercise routine on your own. You will need to have a physical assessment done to ensure the exercises you want to do are safe in your current condition.

Keep in mind that Parkinson’s disease can cause balance issues. Take precautions when trying new activities, so you can prevent any accidental falls. Avoid activities that require you to have a lot of balance — like riding a bike or rock climbing.

Muscle stiffness can make lifting weights challenging. Too much weight or performing exercises incorrectly leads to increase stiffness and pain. Ask your doctor if they would recommend a physical therapist. A physical therapist can show you some exercises and help you determine how much weight to use.

Take the time to properly warm-up and stretch before exercising. Warming up before a workout helps keep you from injuring yourself while exercising. Did you exercise before you were diagnosed with Parkinson’s? You should double the amount of time you usually take to warm-up and cool down.

Recommended Reading: Thinking Big About Parkinson’s Disease

5. Get a Training Partner

If you are struggling to stick to a specific program, consider finding a training partner. This can be a friend, family member, volunteer, or someone you hire to exercise with you and help keep you on track. 

Consider hiring a professional trainer that specializes in working with Parkinson’s patients. Choose someone that you get along with well because you will need to be able to work together as a team.

If you hire a trainer that doesn’t have experience with Parkinson’s, provide resources for them to learn. Share blog articles or YouTube videos with them that provide information on the disease, or ask your doctor what exercises would be most beneficial for you.

The initial cost of any of the structured therapy programs will often be covered by Medicare (if you meet eligibility criteria), but the ongoing costs to maintain what you have learned should be discussed, so you know your options.

6. Attend A Support Group

Attending a support group specific to Parkinson’s is another wonderful resource. The group facilitators typically bring in a variety of experts that can offer you information and education on a number of topics. You also gain an opportunity to network with others who have been diagnosed and can share struggles and successes they are experiencing.

Aging Outreach Services provides a list of support groups to patients in the Sandhills area. You can view the list on the following page: Sandhills Area Support Groups.

Not a resident of this area? There are numerous support groups all across the region. Contact us for help locating the closest Parkinson’s support group, or visit the Aging Life Care website

Your local hospital is another resource for discovering groups in your area.

Recommended Reading: The Most Misdiagnosed Type of Dementia

7. Visualize Success

Visualizing your success if you achieve your exercise goals helps you to stay motivated. When the reward seems obtainable, you’re more likely to stick with it. 

Write down your goals and consider keeping a journal to track your progress. Putting your goals and activities down on paper makes it more real and keeps you accountable.

Create a vision board to help you visualize yourself enjoying the fruits of your labor. What are the activities or rewards that you are going to gain by sticking to your exercise routine?

Add pictures of you golfing, bowling, getting a drink with friends, or whatever activity you would like to participate in again. Keep your vision board in a prominent spot in your home. Look at it every day before you have to exercise to remind yourself what all the hard work is for.

Recommended Reading: Beyond the Bar: The Mind-Body Connection of Ballet and Why It Might Be the Best Exercise for Midlife

8. Keep Learning

At some point, be willing to make modifications to maintain your safety and keep an awareness of fall-prevention strategies. We all struggle with motivation, but maintaining those exercises will truly help you achieve your goal of continued activity. 

Take your time as you go down this path, and continue to seek out resources and opportunities to learn about Parkinson’s and how to live your best each day.

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About the author

Amy Natt, MS, CMC, CSA

President & CEO, Aging Life Care™ Manager

“I am dedicated to working with older adults and their families to maintain dignity and enhance their quality of life.”

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