As a physical therapist who treats many people with Parkinson disease (PD), I often see people drastically improve during their time in therapy. To some degree, it’s likely due to being more active overall. We all hear that exercise is medicine. When it comes to PD, research certainly supports that claim. Exercise helps nearly every system in your body to function better. Exercise helps you to feel better. It even helps people to feel more energized.
So, with evidence about benefits of exercise pouring in from a variety of studies and journals, what’s the best kind of exercise for PD? It may sound obvious, but the “best kind” of exercise you can do is the kind you will do regularly and safely. There is a great deal of research available regarding the neuroprotective benefits of exercise and the ways in which it could be helpful to people with PD. However, if it isn’t something you will stick with, and it isn’t something
in which you find value, then even the best-laid plans will be ineffective.
Since so many forms of exercise—from walking, to raking leaves, to boxing, Pilates, cycling, Yoga, Tai Chi and more—can be helpful for people with Parkinson’s, the bigger question is, “Are you TRAINING, or are you just working out?” I ask because there is a valuable distinction. Any exercise could be helpful; however, training is more involved.
Recently, at a PD event, I heard a speaker mention that he “trains to his impairments.” It really got me thinking. I’ve had conversations on this very topic with amateur and professional athletes. I’ve known athletes who say that on their off day, they like to exercise, for example going for a jog rather than training for his sport. This sets a nice distinction for me. Training is targeted. Training may be related to acquiring or improving a skill. “Training” likely has a performance or task-related goal (for example, improving consistency with a 3-point shot…or in more real-life terms, being able to walk 150 feet from the car to the grocery store independently). In other words, training is a way to improve on specific tasks. So for PD, should you train or should you exercise? I think both! Consider this:
- Exercise can be done to stay active, feel good, and to maintain health.
- Training could be a way to minimize the impact of symptoms in activities of daily living or to maximize function.
In light of this new way of looking at things, I’d like to issue a challenge. Take some time to think about what physical tasks you would like to improve upon. Think about who could help you with them. Then, come up with a training plan to address those items. If you need help, consider asking an exercise group leader or your neighborhood physical therapist. Train hard to minimize your “PD Problem List,” and exercise for fun and for activity!
Here’s another challenge for you: Share your training goals with someone else, and keep them updated about the results. Along those lines, next time I will focus on improving consistency. Until then, keep up the hard work!