Rethinking Exercise With Parkinson’s

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by Dr. C |

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I hate facing the effort it takes to start daily exercise. I hate the way I feel the next day — like I have been pummeled with nunchuks. But ever since my Marine Corps training I have enjoyed the benefits of exercise. I know it is hard to get up and engage in physical activity. This is particularly true when facing the motor hesitation of Parkinson’s. It is hard to exercise facing the level of discomfort that is going to follow. This is particularly true when the post-exercise stiffness is compounded by the rigidity associated with Parkinson’s. Yet, despite these difficulties, the benefits of exercise far exceed the temporary increase in discomfort.

Starting exercise after being sedentary combined with neuromuscular malfunctions requires special considerations. The Marine Corps boot camp approach just is not going to work. Last time I tried that I ended up with multiple muscle injuries. A new approach to exercise came from three ideas: mindful movements, little things practice, and long movements adapted from Lee Silverman Voice Treatment (LSVT) exercise recommendations.

In the study “Effect of Exercise on Motor and Nonmotor Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease,” the authors report that “LSVT BIG therapy is designed to overcome amplitude deficits associated with PD. This therapy improves proprioception through increasing amplitude together with sustained attention and cognitive involvement by mentally focusing on individual movements.” In other words, I am concentrating on where my body is and what it is doing, and I’m paying attention by focusing on the task at hand.

My new exercise program incorporates activities that focus on long and slow movements while I’m simultaneously engaged in a mindful focus on the little things. This new exercise program is also tied to something that will continually motivate me to move past the Parkinson’s hesitation to start. I discovered, in some ways rediscovered, the answer with landscape gardening.

What is great about landscape gardening is that there are so many different types of motor tasks that need to be accomplished: shoveling, hauling with a wheelbarrow, planting, raking, clipping, and pruning. Knowing that I need more light physical activity for both warming up and for bad days, where I can only put in short durations, I am installing a white gravel Zen path. The small gravel pieces, less than an inch in diameter, are incredibly easy to rake with long mindful movements. Light and easy warm-up exercise has become mandatory for me before any physical activity. The one day I forgot resulted in strained muscles that required too much time to heal. The good thing is I now know what strained muscle pain feels like and how it is different from Parkinson’s muscle pain and different from post-exercise pain. I now know why the light warm-up exercise in a mindful state needs to happen before I tackle the larger landscape gardening projects.

Getting back into exercise after being sedentary for so long requires patience — lots and lots of patience. I see so many things in my vision for our yard. But I know if I push myself in that old boot camp way I am going to end up injured and unable to accomplish my vision. But patience means slowing down and slowing down feels like I am not accomplishing “great” things. If I think I am not accomplishing then I am not successful, and if I cannot be successful, then I feel no need starting at all. It is a devious cycle that ignores the practice of “little things” and becomes a reason to not exercise. Mindful, light motor exercise activities break that cycle. Like Tai Chi and yoga, the long, mindful movements help motivate me out of sedentary life and into a balanced exercise regime.

Gardening is also good for the mind and what is good for the mind is good for the body. My approach to gardening is different now. My first impression of the change is that my actions are calmer, framed in sacred intent. But, in all honesty, I am still sorting all that out. Using this new approach to exercise, while being creative with landscape gardening, is making a huge difference in my health. We just did a teleconference with my new primary provider and Mrs. Dr. C said, “He’s the healthiest he’s been in four years.”


Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, Bionews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.


Kathleen Berckman avatar

Kathleen Berckman

I just found out that the exercise program at the tilton gym in Brick "Rock Steady "designed to help patients with Parkinsons is closing .
I am so very disappointed,the program gave me more confidence in my mobility, and gave me a feeling of improving.

Dr. C avatar

Dr. C

Hi Kathleen ~ Exercise is probably the most important thing you can do to help manage PD. We share in your disappointment as most likely the program is closed due to Covid restrictions. You may want to see if you can find an online program, or perhaps a video that you can participate in at home. A walk in the park is a good thing too!
Hope you can find an alternative to the gym and keep up the good work.
Dr. C.


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