Lifestyle and Therapy
Exercise, making healthy lifestyle choices, and being knowledgeable about the disease play a critical role in helping people with Parkinson’s live well.
Studies show that people with Parkinson’s who exercise regularly experienced improved mobility and quality of life. Other benefits include:
- improvement in walking, tremor, flexibility, and balance (treadmill, biking, yoga and Tai Chi are recommended)
- reduced depression, fatigue and cognition which includes motor planning
- increased neurochemicals such as dopamine to help protect the brain from damage and improve transmissions of dopamine signals
People with Parkinson’s’ who enroll in exercise programs six months or longer have shown significant increase in balance and mobility when compared to people enrolled in shorter programs.
Daily exercise with intensity (increased breathing and heart rate) and duration (30 to 60 minutes) is recommended especially in the early stages of Parkinson’s. If you have not started exercising, the best time to start is now.
- Exercise in 10 minutes intervals, 3 times per day
- Increase exercise to 30 to 60 minutes each day
- Join support groups, exercise programs, or meet with your physical therapist. Your physician may discuss referring you to a physical or occupational therapist.
Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet is important for everyone. While there are no specific nutritional guidelines for Parkinson’s disease patients, the following three dietary components deserve special attention:
- Fiber: Eating a diet high in fiber and fluids reduces constipation
- Calcium/Vitamin D: Eating foods or supplements rich in calcium and vitamin D can help prevent loss of bone density. Lack of vitamin D can lead to brittle bones and an increased risk for fractures, which is dangerous as people with Parkinson’s are more prone to falling.
- Protein: Levodopa and protein are absorbed in the same location in the gut. We recommend that you take levodopa at least 30 minutes before or after you eat to allow your body time to fully absorb the medication.
How Physical Therapy Can Help
A physical therapist will complete a thorough evaluation of your mobility including balance, walking, strength, and endurance. In-person and virtual sessions will be scheduled to help assist with your rehabilitation journey.
A physical therapist can help with:
- education and self-management advice
- exercise routines to improve balance, walking, prevention of falls and what to do if you fall
- mobility around the house and community
- using assistive devices for mobility such as canes, walkers, or hiking poles
- Freezing; what to do and prevention
- cognitive executive function
- musculoskeletal pain, such as lower back and shoulder pain
How Occupational Therapy Can Help
People with Parkinson’s disease (PD) may have difficulty with activities at work, home, and in their community. This includes writing legibly, using the computer or phone, focusing on work, preparing meals, remembering to take medications, getting in and out of bed, and/or putting on socks and shoes. If you are noticing that your symptoms are interfering with your daily activities, ask to be seen by an occupational therapist for an evaluation.
An occupational therapist can help patients implement personalized strategies to maintain independence and improve their overall mental and physical health. This includes recommending alternative tools/devices to use for daily activities and to maintain a safe home environment.
Tips for everyday tasks:
- Conserve your energy and plan your day according to changes in energy levels (on/off periods).
- Complete your most important tasks first and pace your day.
- Manage your stress to improve tremors and quality of life.
- Perform deep breathing exercises, physical exercise, meditation.
Basic tips to maintain a safe home environment
- Clear hallways of clutter.
- Remove throw rugs.
- Install handrails if needed.
- Use appropriate assistive devices.
- Add night lights.
How Speech Therapy Can Help
Many patients with Parkinson’s disease develop a change in speech characterized by a softened voice, less precise articulation, problems with fluency, or stuttering especially at the beginning of a sentence.
Some patients experience rapid bursts of speech, a monotonous sounding voice, and/or a reduction in facial expression.
Our KP Care Team is available to help you. Many speech therapists use non-pharmacological therapy to improve voice pitch and enunciation. Tips that can help improve speech and communication:
- Face your listener when speaking.
- Express yourself in short, concise sentences.
- Take a breath before speaking and pause between phrases to take another breath.
- Exaggerate pronunciation, particularly of consonants.
- Pretend the listener is hard of hearing and speak louder.
- Practice reading out loud using these techniques.
Let your KP Care Team know if you have trouble with swallowing. We may refer you to a speech pathologist to help you learn strategies and exercises to facilitate swallowing, avoid choking, and strengthen the muscles used to swallow.
If you have swallowing problems, follow these guidelines for eating:
- Eat meals after your Parkinson’s disease medication has taken effect, usually 30 to 60 minutes after taking the medication(s).
- Ensure that you have adequate time to eat.
- Eat food that is cut in small pieces. Don’t hesitate to ask a companion to cut up meat or other foods.
- Try using easy-grip utensils.
Parkinson’s disease may impair the automatic reflex that enables the swallowing of saliva. As a result, saliva will build up in the mouth and leak out. Developing a habit of consciously swallowing or taking a sip of water every few minutes or sucking on sugar-free hard candy may help with drooling. If these methods do not work well, talk with your physician about other treatment options.
Neuroprotective Benefits of Exercise
Resource Library (search exercise)
Events: In-person and online
How Physical Therapy can help