If you have Parkinson's, keep moving

The coronavirus pandemic has had a big impact on how we exercise. Some people have used the opportunity to increase the amounts of exercise they do. But you may have found yourself being
less active and noticed a decline in your fitness levels.

Here, specialist physiotherapist Bhanu Ramaswamy talks about how to start, re-start or keep moving and get the most out of your exercise routine.

Don't wait to be told to exercise by a health professional

Exercise can help you to stay active and manage your Parkinson’s symptoms.

There is lots of information about getting started (or getting back to) exercise here.

There are lots of online exercise videos you can do at home at your own pace on YouTube.

You can also download our new guide How to stay active and exercise at home or call 0330 124 3250 to order a free copy.

Person with Parkinson's exercising at home

Choosing exercise that works for you

It’s important to choose exercise that works for you. You may not just have Parkinson’s but other conditions too, which affect your vision, joints or confidence, for example. As a starter, check if the following has happened over the past year:

  • Are you weaker? Do you hold the rail when climbing stairs? Do you push with your hands to stand? Are jar lids tighter to open? A ‘yes’ to any of these means you need to work on exercises for strength.
  • Are you stiffer? Does your back or knees twinge on standing, but ease once moving? Is reaching down to sort shoes and socks harder? If the answer to these questions is ‘yes’, you need to work on exercises for flexibility.
  • Are you slower and generally less fit? When you exert yourself are you more out of breath than you used to be? If the answer to these questions is ‘yes’, you need to work on aerobic exercises that increase your heart rate.

'Physical activity' versus 'exercise'

These terms are used interchangeably, but do mean different things.

Physical activity means any movement of your body that uses energy. This might include gardening, household chores or walking to the shops and back.

Exercise is a planned, structured, repetitive activity which aims to improve or maintain your physical and mental fitness. People with Parkinson’s need specific exercise to remain physically active.

Think about the FIT principle

FIT stands for frequency, intensity and time/type of exercise. The principle helps you create an exercise plan that will be more effective in reaching your goals.

Frequency

People with Parkinson’s, especially if you are new to exercise, should work towards doing:

  • 30 minutes of moderate or vigorous aerobic exercise, five times a week
  • 2-3 sessions of resistance training a week

If you are finding it difficult to fit exercise into your day or you get tired easily when you are exercising, try an exercise ‘snack’. These can be 10-minute chunks that you don’t need to warm-up or cool-down for and work on one aspect of fitness at a time.

Intensity

There are differences between building muscle endurance, strength and power, and aerobic exercise which may be classed as light, moderate, vigorous or very vigorous.

It’s important to understand how you can get the most out of your exercise routine. For example:

  • If you are doing a strengthening exercise with 10 repetitions of one action, repeated three times with rests between, you don’t want it to feel easy or too hard and injure yourself. ‘Just right’ here means an ache in the muscle by the end of each set of 10, feeling you can’t do a fourth set, AND an ache into the next day.
  • For aerobic exercise, make sure you can do sustained exercise for 10 minutes at a moderate level. Use the warm-up to increase how warm you are, your breathing rate should increase and you should get a little sweaty.

Time

Aim to do at least 30 minutes of exercise a day – even if you do this in 5-10 minute chunks. Time your exercise around your medication and when you feel most capable.

Fitness, like any other skill, will take time. Don’t be put off by exercising – get help to understand what you need to be doing from an exercise professional or physiotherapist who knows about Parkinson’s.