Parkinson’s Disease: The Role of Exercise

Research has shown that exercise can help manage a variety of Parkinson’s disease symptoms, and possibly slow the progression of the disease. High-intensity aerobic exercise in particular has been shown to improve mobility, balance, flexibility, coordination and cognitive skills. The earlier a patient begins therapy and an exercise program, the better; however, it is important for these patients to partner with therapists to develop an exercise routine that is specifically geared toward helping with the disease and avoiding injury.

To help manage the symptoms of Parkinson’s, the Cone Health Neurorehabilitation team uses a few different types of exercises, including:

  • The Parkinson’s Wellness Recovery (PWR!) for life framework – incorporates full body movements in five different positions (sitting, standing, lying on your back, lying on your stomach, and on all fours) with an emphasis on larger movements. Parkinson’s often causes patients to develop slower, smaller movements, but through practice, they can learn to incorporate larger movements into their daily activities.
  • Aerobic exercise – high-intensity exercise five to six times a week for a minimum of thirty minutes may help slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease. Cycling, pole walking, and jogging or walking are all great ways to incorporate aerobic exercise.
  • Stretching and strengthening exercises – focuses on posture and the muscles most affected by rigidity.

Occupational therapists are specially trained to work with Parkinson’s patients and teaching them how to use larger movements during handwriting or fine motor tasks such as fastening buttons.

Exercises should start immediately after the diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. Ask your physician about how rehabilitation can benefit you, and help create an individualized home exercise plan. Cone Health’s Neurorehabilitation Center takes a team approach to treating and helping patients manage their Parkinson’s disease, with a dedicated team of occupational, physical and speech therapists. The Center also holds a free educational group session each month for recently diagnosed patients throughout the community, called Power Over Parkinson’s. The program is designed to encourage, empower and educate Parkinson’s disease patients on the steps to help manage their disease and improve their quality of life.

Spokesperson Background:

Kathryn Rine is an occupational therapist at Cone Health Neurorehabilitation Center. She received a Bachelor of Science in occupational therapy from East Carolina University in 1993. Kathryn was certified in Parkinson’s Wellness Recovery (PWR!) techniques in 2014 but has been a Cone Health occupational therapist for more than 20 years.