Parkinson's Disease and Exercise

Exercise and Parkinson’s Disease, Perfect Together!

        Over the last thirty years, many advancements have been made in the world of health care.  One exciting change in the treatment of and recommendations for people diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease (PD) is the importance of exercise!  About ten years ago, I met a very wise man who had PD.  He enthusiastically shared with me three recommendations his neurologist gave him, following his diagnosis.  His exact words were, “Exercise, exercise and exercise.”  This was in direct contrast to recommendations made when I graduated from physical therapy school.  At that time, the exercise treatment most prescribed was stretching.  It was thought that too much exercise might have a negative impact on a person with PD. 

        Well, things have totally changed since then and exercise has evolved into an extremely important intervention for people diagnosed with PD.  The sooner a person starts an intensive exercise regimen, the more beneficial.  Nevertheless, it is definitely more helpful to introduce exercise at any time following a diagnosis rather than avoiding it or putting it off—as exercise is so beneficial.  I see positive results in our clinic all the time!

        Parkinson’s Disease is a progressive disorder involving the nervous system which affects movement and coordination.  With PD, a person’s brain stops producing a neurotransmitter called Dopamine.  With less Dopamine available, a person has more difficulty regulating their movements, body and emotions.  Current research is showing that exercise has a protective effect on the remaining dopamine neurons.  Research is also showing that dopamine is used more efficiently by the brain when mice exercise.  Other studies have shown an increase in the number of brain cells following an 8-week forced exercise program in mice.  Human studies, which include intensive cycling, have shown improvements with stiffness, tremor and fine motor coordination. 

        Moreover, exercise helps with muscle strength, balance, posture, mood and walking ability.  Some neurologists now considered exercise as important as taking Parkinson’s medications. 

So, the current research is showing the type of exercise can be varied, but it should be consistent and it should be challenging.  Tai chi, yoga, biking, dancing the Tango, treadmill walking, running and boxing have all been shown to be beneficial!   

        In conclusion, if you have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, make exercise a priority.  Schedule your exercise program on your calendar.  If you have been diagnosed with PD recently or 15 + years ago, consider seeing a physical therapist.  A physical therapist with training in PD can evaluate, treat and make recommendations for a specific exercise program that best suits your abilities and needs. 


Please feel free to contact me with any questions or for more information

Anne Haneman, PT

Willow Grove/Hatboro Physical Therapy -