Looking for some smooth moves to put the brakes on stiffness and mobility loss? Try the tango. Yes, you heard that right!
“Exercise as medicine” may sound like the latest trendy catchphrase, but it’s a concept with strong roots in serious science, especially for people with Parkinson’s.
The mounting pile of evidence prompted the American Academy of Neurology in 2016 to update its guidelines for PD care, asking doctors to stress the multiple benefits of exercise to their patients.
Regular physical activity improves functional mobility, or the ability to move around in your environment, and combats stiffness and balance problems.
There is scientific evidence that certain types of physical movements can jump-start the brain into building new cellular connections. This can help improve motor control and cognitive thinking.
Remember, any type of exercise done regularly will pay off with better mobility, less stiffness and improved overall function. But if you’re tired of the same-old exercises, try these five tips for taking your workout into symptom-busting territory.
Try the Tango.
Dance is gaining traction as a PD therapy, particularly the Argentine Tango. Studies comparing it with other exercise, including dances like the waltz and foxtrot, show the tango provides significantly more improvement in mobility, freezing gait and balance.
Researchers believe the mental work of learning tango moves, which require both forward and backward motions, along with sensory cues from music and having a dancing partner are reasons why this form of dance gives people with PD extra benefits.
Aim for intervals of intensity.
Studies show high-intensity interval training (HIIT)—short bursts of intense effort followed by an equal period of recovery—is not only more enjoyable than steady-state workouts, it provides specific advantages to people with PD. When people with PD did eight weeks of HIIT on indoor cycles the training reduced stiffness and improved muscle tone.
The study found HIIT also spurred production of a brain chemical that stimulates nerve growth and function—something usually done by dopamine, which wanes in PD. Another study looking at HIIT with weights found the regimen provided major improvements in the ability to activate muscles, generate power and produce energy.
Walk like a Scandinavian.
Nordic walking—in which trekkers use poles similar to those used for skiing—requires physical and mental effort to coordinate upper and lower body motion. This combination may help the brain bypass neural connections damaged in PD.
Studies reviewing the evidence for Nordic walking show it helps people with Parkinson’s move more like people without the condition. They take longer steps and walk with a less random gait.
Activate the mind-body connection.
Yoga and Tai Chi—a traditional Chinese exercise combining deep breath and slow movements—give people with PD better balance and significantly lower their risk of falls. Unfortunately, falling is a common cause of injury for people with PD and can increase their fears about walking.
Tai Chi improves motor function, helping people walk and do other movements more smoothly, while yoga gives people with Parkinson’s a boost in strength and flexibility.
Get 150 minutes of exercise a week to slow down PD-related decline.
A study of more 3,000 people with Parkinson’s showed people who exercised consistently over two years had much smaller declines in mobility that non-exercisers. Those who got moving for at least 150 minutes a week reaped the most benefits.
Improvements were seen with all types of exercise, and the longer people worked out, the more mobility they kept. Researchers were surprised to find that people with advanced PD had the biggest gains in mobility with each 30-minute increase in their weekly workout time.
BONUS TIP: If you really want to get into symptom-busting territory, join the Power Through Project. This social exercise tool was created exclusively for people with Parkinson’s and their supporters. It lets you track your workouts, find PD-friendly exercise classes and meet others in the community—all while learning how certain types of exercises improve symptoms. What have you got to lose?
By Emily Delzell