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How to Improve Your Motor Skills When You Have Parkinson’s Disease

Medically reviewed by Ricky Chen, MD on February 15, 2017Written by Rena Goldman on February 15, 2017
improve motor skills with parkinson's disease

Losing motor skills and coordination is usually the most visible sign of Parkinson’s disease and likely the symptom that is most disruptive to daily life. But getting regular exercise can be very helpful, particularly in the early stages. According to the National Parkinson’s Foundation, research has shown that intense exercise for 2.5 hours each week may actually help to delay symptom progression.

Getting regular exercise is beneficial to everyone’s health, but it can be especially valuable to helping you avoid falls and maintain independence longer. Exercise will also help you to avoid stiffness and have better balance, posture, and mobility.

Learn which types of exercise work best for people with Parkinson’s.

Cardio

Cardio is any activity of moderate to high intensity that gets your heart rate up. Activities that fit this category are:

  • jogging
  • cycling
  • dancing
  • aerobics
  • swimming

In general, these are good for improving your heart heath, reducing anxiety and depression, and maintaining a healthy weight when done regularly. If you’re living with Parkinson’s, they can help improve the way you move.

In fact, research has found that training on a treadmill for weeks can improve balance and the way you walk.

Aerobics and dance classes that get your heart rate up while challenging you to learn new movements and focus on what your body is doing are particularly helpful. In addition to the physical benefits, they also keep your mind active. Dancing and moving to a rhythm may help with stiffness as well. These forms of exercise are thought to be beneficial for Parkinson’s disease because your body is forced to engage in different movement patterns throughout the course of one workout session.

Resistance training

In addition to affecting motor skills, Parkinson’s can also reduce muscle strength. Having muscle strength helps you to change positions from sitting to standing and support yourself better.

Resistance training is different from weight training. Lifting weights isn’t recommended when you have Parkinson’s, but it’s not the only way to add muscle.

There are exercises you can do using your own body weight or using resistance bands that safely create enough resistance to challenge your body. You might use a resistance band during a physical therapy session.

Regular resistance training can help build strength, which then improves your ability to perform daily tasks and movements, like walking down stairs.

Balance training

One of the major concerns with Parkinson’s is losing your balance and falling. Falls can be extremely dangerous and are considered high risk. Practicing activities to improve your balance is one of the best ways to prevent falls.

Balance training focuses on improving your body’s ability to support itself by using exercises to strengthen muscles needed to help you stand upright. Activities like the following are all forms of balance training:

  • yoga
  • tai chi
  • Pilates
  • barre

One study found that tai chi can improve physical function and reduce balance problems in people with mild to moderate Parkinson’s. Tai chi may even be more effective than stretching or resistance training for improving your ability to stand upright without losing balance.

Next steps

Talk to your doctor before starting an exercise routine. It’s likely they’ll refer you to a physical therapist who can teach you how to do the exercises and design a workout program that meets your needs. In order to get the most out of exercising, your routine should include a mix of cardio, resistance training, and balance training.

In addition, you might consider a group exercise program specifically for people with Parkinson’s. An instructor will plan the moves so they’re safe, but challenging. These can be a good way to get your workout in and socialize with others who are going through the same thing. To find a class near you, ask your doctor, physical therapist, or social worker.

Starting an exercise program can be challenging for anyone. If you’re new to exercise, don’t get discouraged. It takes time to learn and for your body to build strength and endurance.

Remember to listen to your body. If a movement feels too hard or too painful, stop and tell your physical therapist. They will find a way to modify the exercise so it works better for you.

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