Managing Parkinson’s symptoms with exercise

Janet Millar

Battling Parkinson’s disease? Fight back with exercise. That’s the message emerging from a growing body of research finding that people with Parkinson’s who exercise fare better over time than those who are not active.

“Exercise is not just beneficial for people with Parkinson’s, it’s essential,” says Janet Millar, Clinical Director and Physiotherapist at the Maritime Parkinson’s Physiotherapy Clinic in Halifax. “In our clinic, we tell people that exercise is as important as medication. We say this because recent literature suggests that exercise can and does improve Parkinson’s symptoms.”

Typical symptoms include slowness and stiffness, impaired balance, muscle rigidity and stooped posture. “These movement issues become impossible to deal with, at some point, if people with Parkinson’s do not keep themselves in good physical condition,” says Millar.

Noting that almost any kind of physical movement can be beneficial, if done properly, Millar recommends to her clients with Parkinson’s:

Exercise regularly, meaning daily. Make it challenging. “Those are the two criteria in which the literature tells us Parkinson’s can be slowed down.”

Focus on five key areas: endurance, flexibility, balance, posture, strength. “Walking is one of the most beneficial activities. It addresses several of those five issues and it provides opportunities to pay attention to stride length, gait pattern and arm swing, which are all affected in Parkinson’s.”

Emphasize the anti-gravity muscle group. “These are the muscles that straighten you or make you taller.” Back extensors, knee straighteners, triceps – the muscles at the back of the elbow that straighten the arms, enabling you to reach up, to the side and behind the back, shoulder blade squeezes. “These work against the typical stooped posture in Parkinson’s.”

Make exercise a lifelong habit. “There is something every single person can do – right from the person who can work out in the gym alongside everyone else to the person who may be confined to a bed and need extra support and intervention.”

Get active and stay active. People who enjoy group exercise can look for classes at community recreation centres. If not, they may find something they can do on their own or with a buddy. Millar: “Find physical activities that the person likes or will, at least, tolerate. I think that is the secret to compliance.”

4 Responses to “Managing Parkinson’s symptoms with exercise”


  1. 1 wpglaw April 4, 2012 at 8:35 am

    It works for me. DX year ago, 66 years old, walk 2-3 miles daily, stretch daily and strength train twice a week. Probably overdoing it, but it sure keeps my symptoms at bay

  2. 2 Maurice Desrochers April 4, 2012 at 6:51 pm

    I was diagnosed 19 year s ago, for the first 8 years I kept doing what the wife and I like best mountains hicking.­ On the 9er year I noticed some stifness in my legs, I decided to decrease the lengt of our walk3to 3 kim but 5 days a week. Later we bought an enforcer (small dog)whom wants to go walking twice a day. and 7 days a week. In 1206 My balance took a dive I fell twice in that winter, my cane was my helper. I read an article about daily exercise, I decides to try it. I bought a gaselle some weight lifting 15 Kilo. others exercises like pushup, kneee bend, and others exercises that I got at the Bruyere hospital. Since then I exercise 6 days a week and I still walk as much but not on icy roads. The only thing thst botherd me are writing and my stooped back. I am and stilll fighting this decease.It only takes approx 30 minutes ea days and sometime the helped is required. Activity is one of the best remedy and is very cheap.

  3. 3 Barbara Jess June 20, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    After 11 years of PD, I shutter to think where I would be without our YMCA. I try to get there 5 or 6 times a week. A wide variety of types of exercise keep me from getting bored!! There are too many distractions to exercise properly at home.
    I do notice that I feel like I lose ground when I am away from my normal exercise routine for even a few days – so I guess I have to find an exercise plan that suits my temperament and is portable.
    At 62 and with PD, I feel I am more physically fit than at any other time I my life.

  4. 4 Bill Trewin June 20, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    I had the pleasure of meeting Janet Millar not too long after being diagnosed with PD at the age of 49, I am now 59 years old. She has been so very helpful and encouraging all along the way.

    There is no question that exercise has played an important role in my ability to do things that I never thought would have been possible when I was first diagnosed. I have found that a combination of music and excercise works well for me.

    So far I have;

    -Nordic Walked 23 half marathons (21K) and one full marathon.

    -hiked to the top of Gros Morne in Newfoundland and Mt. Katahdin in the state of Maine.

    -photographed 23 water falls

    -photographed hundreds of pieces of driftwood

    -On Saturday June 23rd 2012 I will complete my second 10K RUN of the year at the Cross Border Challenge which is a running event between the Provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

    Has there been health changes? Certainly there have been. Without exercise and music I know I would never have gotten this far. Nobody has a crystal ball to know how things will unfold. Take each day one at a time.


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All material related to Parkinson's disease contained in Parkinson Post is solely for the information of the reader. It should not be used for treatment purposes. Specific articles reflect the opinion of the writer and are not necessarily the opinion of PSC.

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