The benefits of exercise are numerous, even for those diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disorder such as Parkinson’s disease. Experts at Baylor College of Medicine’s Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorder Clinic (PDMDC) say that for some, regular exercise could even slow the progression of the disease. 

Parkinson's disease is a disorder of the nervous system that affects movement. It develops gradually and may progress to cause difficulties with mobility and balance. The most common symptoms are tremor and/or stiffness and for some, these symptoms can become disabling without the help of medications.

“A person with Parkinson’s disease becomes less able to regulate their body and limb movements as time goes on. Exercise helps by building stamina, strength and maintaining a range of motion,” said Dr. Joseph Jankovic, professor of neurology at Baylor and Director of the PDCMDC. “Exercise has been shown to help improve flexibility, walking, grip strength and coordination.”

So what kind of exercises are best? Jankovic says that depends on what stage of Parkinson’s disease a person is living with. It is important to speak to your doctor to determine what is right for your individual health and abilities, however the key is consistency.

Not only has exercise been shown to support physical health but also brain health. In Parkinson’s disease, certain neurons, including those that produce dopamine, stop functioning and the production of dopamine decreases.

Some studies have shown that when exercise is introduced, the brain begins to use dopamine more efficiently. There is also research that supports the idea that neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to adapt or compensate to changes in function) is supported by exercise, helping the brain to maintain and strengthen neural connections. It is believed that this plays a role in slowing the progression of the disease.

“While there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, there are medications available and when coupled with lifestyle changes, such as vigorous exercise program, most Parkinson’s patients can continue to enjoy meaningful quality of life and well-being,” said Jankovic.