Benefits of Regular Exercise for Seniors with Parkinson’s Disease

Author: Debbie Humphrey

One of the caregivers on my team helps a 76-year-old gentleman with Parkinson’s disease (PD). He is one of her favorite clients because she has known the family her entire life…literally. When she was an infant, her maternal Grandmother was a housekeeper for the man’s family when he and his 6 brothers were just young boys.

This pairing is a full-circle experience for our caregiver, and she takes her responsibilities very seriously, as her Grandmother did over 7 decades ago.

Our caregiver loves this client, and they are very comfortable spending time together. One of the ways she helps him is by providing transportation assistance to his appointments, which includes a trip to the gym for his 3-morning/week workout with his personal trainer; his AA meeting after the gym on Wednesdays; and always to his office which happens to be located at his boyhood home.

Although her special senior client has good days and those that aren’t so good, our caregiver is determined to keep her client on schedule with his workouts and his meds, just as the man’s daughter does as his live-in family caregiver.

Exercise and regular physical activity are important for all of us, but I wanted to learn more about how seniors with PD benefit from spending time at the gym and/or staying active as they age and the disease progresses.

The Parkinson’s Foundation explains, “Physical activity has been shown to improve many PD symptoms, from balance and mobility issues to depression, constipation and even thinking skills. In addition, research shows that exercise may have a protective effect on the brain, slowing the degeneration of brain cells. It is also an active way of coping with PD.”

Parkinson’s Disease Defined

The National Institutes of Health defines PD as a brain disorder that causes uncontrollable movements, shaking, tremors, stiffness, and difficulty with balance and coordination. Parkinson’s occurs when the brain cells that make dopamine, a chemical that helps control movement, cease to function, or die.

“Parkinson’s Disease is the second most common degenerative neurological disorder after Alzheimer’s disease. It is estimated that PD affects 1 percent of the population over the age of 60,” explains the Parkinson’s Association of Southwest Florida (PASF), which provides free services and programs that improve the quality of life for persons with Parkinson’s Disease and their care partners.

Benefits of Exercise for Seniors with Parkinson’s Disease

The Parkinson’s Foundation says that research has discovered many positive benefits of regular exercise for seniors with PD.

  • Engaging in any level of physical activity is beneficial to improve motor symptoms.
  • For seniors with mild to moderate PD, focused exercises can address specific symptoms. For example, aerobic exercise improves fitness; walking exercises assist with gait; and resistance training strengthens muscles. One study showed that twice-a-week tango dancing classes helped people with PD improve motor symptoms, balance and walking speed.
  • Aerobic exercise can improve age-related changes in executive function, a type of thinking that is affected in seniors with PD.
  • Seniors who begin exercising earlier experience a significantly slower decline in quality of life than those who start later.
  • Seniors with advanced PD who exercise show greater positive effects on health-related quality of life, so it is particularly important to keep exercising and find new ways to facilitate exercise as the disease progresses.

Specific areas in which seniors with PD see the most benefits include:

  • Gait and balance
  • Flexibility and posture
  • Motor coordination
  • Endurance
  • Working memory and decision making
  • Attention and concentration
  • Quality of sleep

Regular exercise also reduces the risks of:

  • Falls
  • Freezing of gait
  • Depression and anxiety

These benefits are dependent on what types of exercise seniors with PD engage in.

According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, “There is no one exercise prescription that is right for every person with Parkinson’s. The type of exercise you do depends on your symptoms and challenges. For sedentary people, just getting up and moving is beneficial. More active people can build up to regular, vigorous activity.”

The key ingredients of a positive exercise regimen for seniors with PD should include aerobic activity, strengthening exercises, and stretching. There are many types of exercises seniors with PD can do that include all three elements. They include but are not limited to:

  • Running and walking
  • Biking
  • Taichi, yoga, Pilates, or dance
  • Weight training
  • Non-contact boxing

Many of these exercises target functional movements that are part of one’s daily life. However, research is studying how trying new things can make a difference.

“When you begin a new activity, your brain – not just your muscles – learns new movements. So be creative, and vary your routine: exercise indoors and outside, by yourself, in a class setting, or one-on-one with a trainer or physical therapist. Just be sure to get guidance from your healthcare team,” suggests the Parkinson’s Foundation.

The Parkinson’s Foundation continued, “Data from the Parkinson’s Foundation Parkinson’s Outcomes Project, the largest-ever clinical study of Parkinson’s, suggest that people with PD do at least 2.5 hours of exercise every week for a better quality of life. If you’re just starting an exercise program, build up to the recommended 30 minutes of exercise 5 times a week. For example, walk for 10 minutes 3 times a day instead of one 30-minute walk.”

April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month, so this research showing the benefits of regular exercise for seniors with Parkinson’s should be welcome news to patients and families coping with PD and provide some level of hope.

The compassionate Home Helpers caregiver who helps our client with PD is just one of many who are highly trained in specialized Parkinson’s care.

I gladly offer a FREE Consultation to assess specific needs and find the perfect caregiver match to make life easier. Following my assessment, I can determine what in-home care services are needed, such as transportation assistance to workouts, exercise support, companionship, meal planning and preparation, personal care, and respite for family caregivers.

We, at Home Helpers® Clearwater, are honored to have been ranked among the Home Care Pulse Top 100 Leaders in Experience for home care providersand to have receivedthese awards in 2024: Best of Home Care® Provider of Choice, the Best of Home Care® Employer of Choice, the Best of Home Care® Leader in Experience, as well as being named a 2023 Caring Super Star.

We proudly serve male and female seniors in Clearwater, Dunedin, Palm Harbor, Safety Harbor, Tarpon Springs, Holiday, New Port Richey, Trinity, Port Richey, Hudson, and surrounding areas. Home Helpers®…we are Making Life Easier® 727.942.2539


Parkinson’s Foundation

National Institutes of Health

Parkinson’s Association of Southwest Florida



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