Regular exercise can improve physical and mental health, and it has been shown to have a positive impact on people with Parkinson’s. But in the middle of winter, exercise options can be limited. We round up five ways to stay active – and warm! – during the colder months
For people with Parkinson’s, swimming and aquatic therapy (performing physical movements in water) could be beneficial. The buoyancy of water helps support a person’s weight, which may reduce fears of falling and the risk of fatigue. Swimming can also strengthen muscles and decrease stiffness.
Pool-based activities are especially popular in the early and middle stages of Parkinson’s, with many finding it easier to exercise in water than on land. However, it is recommended that people discuss the sport with their doctor to ensure it’s the right activity for their own specific circumstances.
Pilates – an exercise designed to stretch and strengthen the body – has grown in popularity in recent years, with in-person and online courses offered around the world. Focused on improving core strength, posture, breathing control, balance and flexibility, the sport is well suited to the needs of people with Parkinson’s.
Exercises mainly take place on the floor, often require little movement and can be adapted to different physical limitations and levels of fitness. Routines can be carried out either at home or in a group setting.
Research has found that the benefits of Pilates on lower-body function may be superior to other conventional exercises, with the potential to boost body-brain signalling and offer participants more control over the way their body moves. The Brian Grant Foundation describes the sport as a “low-impact activity with big-impact results”.
3. Weight training
According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, weight training can improve levels of dopamine and increase muscular strength, endurance, balance – and even cognitive functioning. Given the decrease in strength and postural difficulties associated with Parkinson’s, weight training is considered by many to be a useful and safe way to increase strength, stability and confidence by gaining “muscle power”.
While people are encouraged to consult a doctor before embarking on exercise routines, many might benefit from a “sitting workout” that uses dumbbells or resistance bands. This can be achieved either at home or in specialist classes hosted by gyms or Parkinson’s support groups.
4. Tai chi
Tai chi and its cousin qigong (martial arts activities both founded on breathing, movement and meditation) could be useful therapies for people with Parkinson’s – with the potential to improve flexibility, balance, walking ability and mindfulness. These Chinese wellness practices involve gentle, fluid movements and can be carried out in classes or household settings, with a plethora of online tutorials available.
A scientific study found that tai chi had a significant beneficial impact on balance, gait and motor scores among people with Parkinson’s – with fewer reported falls compared to those not on the programme. As tai chi and qigong do not rely on strength or speed, the activities can be suitable for a range of ages and abilities.
5. Wall climbing
Indoor climbing walls can be found in many towns and cities, offering the physical benefits of the sport – without the weather. Climbing requires strength, co-ordination and balance, with some doctors saying that the systems impacting movement in people with Parkinson’s are “the same ones we retrain when we have to climb a wall”.
A 2021 study found that in addition to being a feasible activity for people with mild to moderate Parkinson’s, wall climbing may also significantly improve posture – with one study author commenting: “As long as you can walk independently and up a stair, you can go climbing.”
For more information on Parkinson’s disease and exercise, visit the Parkinson’s Europe website.
From Nordic walking to boxing: six sports for Parkinson’s disease
The sport helping to unite members of the community