Staying active and exercising is important for our physical and mental wellbeing.
Here, Parkinson’s experts share top tips on being active at home. And some tips are as good for the people you’re living with as they are for you.
Prep your environment
Before you begin any specific physical activity, make sure your living space is safe and comfortable for the activity.
- Move loose rugs and unnecessary furniture to clear enough space.
- Keep sturdy chairs ready to hold onto, or to sit and rest on.
Make sure your room is at a comfortable temperature - don’t exercise in a room that’s too hot. Open a window if you need to.
Check that your shoes and any equipment you’re using are in a good condition and right for the activity.
Remember to keep any important medication or inhalers close by.
Have a telephone or mobile nearby in case of an emergency.
Don’t forget to drink water. You can lose around one and a half litres of fluid for every hour of vigorous physical activity, so drink water before, during and after a session.
If you have any other medical conditions, check with an appropriate health professional before starting any new physical activity.
Think about your specific Parkinson’s symptoms
Certain exercises or movements will target specific symptoms.
Remember, it’s important to do a proper warm up before activity or exercise, to make sure your body is loose enough for the task.
Bradykinesia (slowness and smaller movements of the body)
Bradykinesia tends to affect one side of the body more than the other. The side most affected by Parkinson’s will tire more quickly.
If you’re doing physical activity that involves using weights or resistance (eg body weight exercises, dumbbells and resistance bands, or machinery like a rowing machine or cross trainer at home), try hard to keep both sides of your body working evenly.
If one side of your body isn’t working as well, slow what you are doing or stop momentarily to refocus. This will help you make sure you’re doing the activity properly. Think quality, not quantity!
If the activity involves walking or stepping using alternate legs, try saying to yourself ‘big step’ or ‘heel down’ when you take a step on your most affected leg, to keep step sizes equal on both legs.
If you choose to walk along a corridor or in the garden, work out how many large steps it should take you to get from the start to finish of your route. Count your steps out loud as you walk, trying to hit the same number of steps on the way back.
Rigidity can stop muscles from stretching and relaxing.
Even when doing small activities, like walking to the kitchen to make a cup of tea, stretch up tall each time you stand. Depending on how steady you are on your feet, reach one arm or both up to the ceiling for a better stretch, especially on your side that’s more rigid.
If you’ve been sitting for a while, twist your body from side to side 2-3 times then swing each leg backwards and forwards. This will help you loosen up before walking anywhere.
Many people find they are more prone to problems with freezing in their home environment, so being active at home may feel a little harder than when in a large exercise space. This can include problems with starting to move or going through doorways.
To start a movement, first stand tall with as much weight on your heels as the rest of your foot, then rock your body from side to side. To trigger a good stepping and walking motion try to take the first step with the leg on your ‘Parkinson’s side’. (The one that can feel the slowest or stiffest).
As you’re walking to another room or around the garden, count using a metronome or to the beat of a tune (ideally one you enjoy and that you know you can move well to). Some people mimic the action of ice-skating, as it helps them move more smoothly from one leg to the other.
Low blood pressure
If you have low blood pressure you might feel dizzy when getting up from lying flat or getting up off the floor.
If the physical activity you want to try is usually done on the floor, try exercising on your bed initially. If you cannot get onto or off the floor because you have become unfit to do so, gradually work towards this skill. This in itself is a great activity.
Use online classes and exercise programmes
There are so many helpful online courses and classes you can try at home.
Here are other trustworthy sites and apps you can try.
If you’re newly diagnosed and your symptoms are mild
Reach your peak
Reach Your Peak is a tailored online programme for people with mild symptoms of Parkinson’s to do at home.
You have to pay for the programme but you can currently get two short programmes free of charge, with no obligation to remain with the company after this period.
PD Warrior app
A Parkinson's-specific exercise programme that challenges your body and mind, developed by specialist Parkinson's physiotherapists. You have to pay for some of the programmes once you’ve downloaded the app. Available on iOS and Android.
If your symptoms are progressing
The Parkinson’s Society in British Columbia
The Parkinson’s Society has pulled together a list of their most helpful resources on exercising at home.
Reach Your Peak’s ‘Be Active’ Programme
A Parkinson’s-specific set of exercises from the Reach Your Peak team. It offers a great way to exercise for those who want a workout that is a little less vigorous than their other programmes.
Tips, advice and guidance on how to keep or get active in and around your home from Sport England.
'Generation games' exercise video
An exercise video led by Sarah Wheatley, a fitness instructor.
If you’re managing complex physical challenges due to your symptoms
Power for Parkinson’s class
Power for Parkinson’s ‘move and shout class’, a 50 minute video of a seated class recorded in Austin, Texas.
Parkinson’s Association of Southwest Florida seated exercise class
A 20 minute seated class led by Margaret Johnston.
Build activity into your daily life
Think about when you can incorporate physical activity into your day.
Do heel raises while doing the dishes.
Stand up to take phone calls or text.
Do side lunges while brushing your teeth.
Hang the washing out rather than use a dryer.
Dance while getting dressed, making a drink or meal.
Use household items such as tins or bottles as weights to do bicep curls or shoulder presses.
Remember, using movement and activity is a great way of breaking up your day.
Think about how much you can do
It’s recommended that you should do 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of aerobic work per week.
Aerobic exercise involves:
getting a little hot and sweaty so you know your heart rate is up
Ideally you would incorporate these into most workouts, while varying what you do. (Eg strength training one day, and balance or flexibility the next). You should also have one recovery day each week to rest.
The most important thing is to keep active and not stay still for too long. Get up and walk around your living room, dining room or hallway, every hour, for at least two minutes.
And when you can get outdoors...
At the moment it’s important to follow the latest official advice. But if you can, go for a walk, run or cycle.
Walking is one of the easiest ways to get active and can still be done around the home and garden.
Exercising at home with Parkinson's: your toolkit
Keeping active is important for your physical and mental wellbeing.
From chair-based aerobics to balance exercises, we’ve brought together a range of video workouts you can do from the comfort of your own home.