Parkinson’s disease is the fastest growing neurological condition in the world and will affect one in 37 people who are alive in the UK today¹.
Not only that, but published research based on 22 studies² shows that 65% of people with Parkinson’s disease fall at least once per year and some 39% experience recurring falls, with an overall average of 20.8 falls annually.
Figures from Parkinson’s UK shows that 145,000 in the UK currently have Parkinson’s disease, meaning that if 39% (56,550) experience an average of 20.8 falls, that’s an estimated 1,176,240 falls each year.
Rachael Newman, a physiotherapist with neurological expertise who works for Ascenti, the UK’s leading private physiotherapy group, has shared an activity routine that encompasses stretching, strengthening and movement to:
- Help people with Parkinson’s disease reduce their risk of injury
- Reduce people’s chances of developing the condition in the first place.
Rachael answers a series of questions below:
What is Parkinson’s disease and how does it affect someone?
“Parkinson’s disease is a condition that affects the brain and gets worse over time. It affects people in different ways but the most common symptoms are involuntary shaking (otherwise known as tremors), slow movement and muscle stiffness.
“People with Parkinson’s disease can struggle with balance and find it hard to start movements, for example standing up or taking a first step, which can make day-to-day life a real challenge. These symptoms also pose a real injury risk, as balance issues and a loss of strength increase the chances of falling over. Published studies show that more than half of people with Parkinson’s fall every year and the majority of those fall several times.
“However, physical activity is a great way to address these issues.”
Can exercise reduce my risk of developing Parksinon’s disease?
“Evidence³ suggests that Parkinson’s disease will sadly become even more prevalent over the coming decades.
“When it comes to reducing your risk of developing the condition, while the evidence for most lifestyle factors is inconclusive, exercise has been found to have clear, strong evidence³ ⁴ and is at the forefront of prevention advice.”
What kind of stretches should people with Parkinson’s disease do?
“There are a number of stretches and activities that can help people with Parkinson’s to tackle muscle stiffness. They include:
- ‘Seated hamstring stretch’ – sit towards the edge of your chair with one leg in front of your body with the heel on the floor, then sit up tall to stretch your spine and hold it.
- ‘Reaching in sitting’ – reach as far forwards as you feel you can safely go. Then do the same, reaching out to each side.
- ‘Standing side bend’ (you can also do this in a seated position if preferred) – keeping your feet and legs together, reach both arms up over your head and inhale, then, putting your right arm down to your side, reach your left arm over your head and bend your body slightly to the right, as you exhale.
- ‘Sitting wood chop’ – start by taking your hand to the opposite ankle, then reach the same arm diagonally up to the sky and then back down to the ankle, as if you are chopping wood.
- ‘Lying twist’ – lie on your back with your arms extended out to the side. Have your feet flat on the floor so that your knees are bent. Then, lower your knees to one side until the outside of your thigh touches the floor. Take 2 deep breaths in the twist before raising them again and lowering them to the other side.
What are some helpful strengthening exercises for people with Parkinson’s?
“New research published in the journal JAMA Neurology⁵ showed that hearing loss and epilepsy can be early signs of Parkinson’s disease. If you think you might be at increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease then building up your physical strength can help protect against the risk of falls and injuries further down the line. Strengthening exercises can include:
- ‘Sit to stand with arm reach’ – with your weaker arm, reach diagonally up and to the side and, from a seated position, stand up while continuing to reach up diagonally. This forces you to move your weight through your weaker leg.
- ‘Marching on the spot’ – really exaggerate the movement of your arm swings and knee lifts with this simple exercise.
- ‘Side stepping’ – stand with your legs together and step to the side, bending your knees into a squat as the foot lands on the floor. For an extra challenge you can add a resistance band around your knees.
- ‘Throw and catch a ball’ – a good one for football fans, this simple overhead throw exercise is great for building strength.
“You can access further support and inspiration through the newly launched Stronger My Way hub from the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists (CSP)⁶.
“Every person’s abilities will be different so, if you’re unsure on what is safe for you to do, it is always best to speak with a physiotherapist to get a tailored exercise program.”
Can dancing be beneficial?
“Putting on a familiar, favourite song and having a dance around with your partner, family member or carer is a great activity to help with strengthening, improving balance and getting stiff muscles moving! It can also be easier to initiate movement with music playing and stepping in time to the song.”
What other activities could you do?
“Almost any activity that gets you moving can have benefits for people with Parkinson’s disease. You could try:
- PD warrior 10 week challenge – this is a Parkinson’s specific exercise to help you improve symptoms.
- Tai chi – this gentle exercise uses movement and mindfulness to increase flexibility, strength and balance, and research suggests it can reduce falls⁷.
- Going out for walks – getting out and about in the fresh air can be really beneficial. Walk at a pace so that you feel some exertion, and add some marching swings for extra benefits.
- Gardening – gardening is a great way to stay active and to keep your hands busy. It’s also good for mental health.
- Yoga – through body postures, simple meditation and breathing techniques, yoga can improve balance and flexibility and reduce stiffness.
Can you tell us about cueing?
“For people that struggle with initiating movements, cueing can be really effective. It can be as simple as counting “1,2,3,4” in your head with the intention of taking a first step on 1 and then stepping forwards in time with the counting. Cueing strips or blocks can also be placed on the floor to help with taking larger steps. Some walking aids project lines onto the floor wherever you are walking to help with this, such as a laser cane.”
What new physiotherapy techniques are coming down the track that might help people with Parkinson’s disease?
“Our understanding of Parkinson’s disease and how best to manage symptoms is constantly improving. Companies like ‘Strolll’ are developing innovative ways of using technology to improve mobility, with visual and audio cues simulated by an AR headset.”
If you found Parkinson’s disease – activity routines best way to reduce risk of illness helpful, you’ll find more expert tips for living with Parkinson’s on our Care and Carers channel.
ReferencesParkinson's Disease Last modified: April 11, 2022