A Show of Strength: Weight Training Benefits Parkinson's Patients

There is no cure for Parkinson's disease, a degenerative neurologic disorder that affects up to one million Americans and can cause severe mobility and coordination problems. Exercise is often recommended to help manage symptoms, but according to research presented at the American Academy of Neurology 2012 annual meeting, the kind of exercise performed can have a significant impact: For patients dealing with common Parkinson's symptoms like slowness, stiffness, and rigidity, resistance, weight, or strength training provided more relief than stretching or balance exercises.

In a small study of older Parkinson's patients, subjects participated in a weight training program or another program for one hour twice a week. Both regimens were designed to improve flexibility, balance, and strength, and everyone saw benefits after six months. However, benefits lasted two years among those in the weight training group.

Fitness Options for Patients With Parkinson's

Many studies have demonstrated the benefits of exercise for people with Parkinson's disease; the key is to find an exercise program that meets your specific needs. For instance, patients with balance issues might benefit from Tai Chi or yoga. Equally important is that you commit to an exercise program; scientists and doctors agree that regular participation in any exercise program, whether it's weight training, walking, yoga, tai chi, or swimming, is what's most important. When muscles are used and strengthened, they'll support mobility longer.

Before you begin an exercise program, first get the OK from your physician and ask for recommendations for physical therapists or fitness professionals with experience training patients with Parkinson's disease. There are many strength training options to choose from:

  • Bodyweight strength training includes yoga, pull-ups, push-ups and other exercises that use only your own body weight to strengthen muscles.
  • Resistance training uses large, stretchy bands or tubes that come in a variety of resistance levels and can be used to train all muscle groups.
  • Weight training might include weight machines or hand weights.

Your physical needs and goals, as well as your abilities, will help determine which kind of strength training program is best for you.

Here are a few exercises you might find helpful:

Resistance Training

Use a long resistance band with handles on each end. Step on the middle of the band with both feet, and grab a handle in each hand. With elbows bent and pressed close to your ribcage and your palms facing up, pull the bands up to exercise your forearms, upper arms, neck, and shoulders. Release slowly, and repeat ten times.

Weight Machines

Be sure to get instructions from a fitness expert before you use any equipment; proper technique is the key to avoiding injury. Whether you're using a machine or a hand weight, beginners should choose a light weight (two to five pounds to start) that requires your muscles to work. Try to lift the weights for two sets of ten repetitions each. Work all your muscle groups using different machines.

Bodyweight Exercise

Sign up for a yoga class designed for people with Parkinson's disease or other mobility conditions. These classes go at a gentler pace and often encourage use of blocks, straps, and other props to accommodate varying physical needs. During a class, you'll likely explore multiple poses that work several muscle groups.

Don't expect any big changes after your first training session, but commit to doing regular exercise several times per week. It won't be long before you're feeling stronger, healthier, and in better control of your muscles.

Liesa Harte, MD, reviewed this article.




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American Parkinson's Disease Association. Web. Page accessed 6 Sept. 2013. http://www.apdaparkinson.org/