Strength Training for Parkinson’s

Strength training for Parkinson's disease: Slowing the Progression

Strength Training for Parkinson's Disease Brain Anatomy

Due to high-profile cases in recent decades, the US is very aware of Parkinson’s disease.

Celebrities like Michael J. Fox, Ozzy Osborne, and late icons Muhammad Ali and Johnny Cash are a few of the famous names who were/are inflicted with the disease.

In the US, 60,000 new cases of Parkinson’s are diagnosed annually.

While Parkinson’s is not terminal, symptoms can significantly affect the individual’s quality of life.

Research has shown exercise, strength training, in particular, can improve symptoms and slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease. Keep reading…

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a central nervous system condition that causes tremors and affects bodily movements.

Dopamine levels diminish as a result of nerve cell destruction in the brain, resulting in a slew of symptoms.

Symptoms of Parkinson’s

This disease manifests by disrupting physical abilities:

  • Causing tremors
  • Postural instability
  • Slow, rigid movement

Those diagnosed with Parkinson’s often suffer from:

  • Debilitating fatigue
  • Strength loss
  • Accelerated muscle atrophy

Muscle atrophy already accelerates after the age of 25, where individuals without Parkinson’s can expect to lose anywhere from a pound to a pound and a half of lean muscle every year on average, so you can imagine how adding Parkinson’s to the mix is particularly troublesome.

Brain imaging showing a loss in serotonin function as Parkinson's disease progresses. Red/yellow areas show that serotonin function reduces before movement symptoms develop. [Neurodegeneration Imaging Group, King's College London.]

Strength Training as a Treatment

Currently, there is no cure for Parkinson’s. With that in mind, science has focused on ways to improve the quality of life for those with the disease.

Among the proven treatment options is something we know well: strength training.

Strength training reverses some of the physical effects of Parkinson’s and can possibly match the physical ability of Parkinson’s sufferers to that of those without the disease.

Physiological Improvements

Physical improvements for Parkinson’s patients are demonstrated by a few studies, most notably research from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. In a four-month study, 15 patients exercised in a full-body strength training workout three days per week.

The routine featured some of the familiar exercises we do at The Perfect Workout, including the leg press, chest press, and lat pull-down. The researchers measured a number of physiological and functional areas at the start and end of the study.

The strength training program was successful in reversing a number of areas generally affected by Parkinson’s.

The participants improved their strength by at least one-third in all major muscle groups. Muscle size increased, including a 36% improvement for fast-twitch muscle fibers (the fibers most responsible for performing challenging tasks).

The trainees were able to walk an additional 140 feet in a six-minute walk test, indicating better endurance, walking speed, and walking ability. Imagine being able to walk another 140 feet during a grocery trip or vacation with family!

Balance on one leg improved by 34%, meaning the people with Parkinson’s were able to stand longer on one leg and were less likely to experience a fall.

The most profound result was from the standing test.

The standing test in this study showed how many muscle fibers were needed for the Parkinson’s sufferers to stand from a seated position. At the start of the study, standing required a near-maximum effort (90% of muscle fibers). Imagine that: needing nearly all of your strength to stand from a chair.

At the end of the study, only 60% of muscle fibers were used to perform a stand. In other words, standing became much easier.

In fact, those with Parkinson’s disease used the same amount of effort to stand after the training program as people the same age who did not have Parkinson’s!

Balance Exercises

The Parkinson’s Foundation recommends doing exercises to improve balance. Some simple at-home exercises include:

  • Walking heel to toe
  • Side leg raises
  • Wall pushups
  • Marching in place

Resistance exercises can also help to improve strength and balance overall.

A 2014 study noticed an increase in balance (and a lower rate of falling) during 12 weeks of strength training when compared to the months prior to training.

In another study, researchers from the Netherlands and Belgium assessed 28 studies using strength training or various types of activity to see what practices are effective for reducing falls and fall risk factors.

Twenty of those studies focused on strength training. The research shows strength exercises also led to improvements in walking speed, static balance, and balance while moving.

Parkinson’s at The Perfect Workout

Many of our members have been able to improve their conditions at The Perfect Workout, including Parkinson’s.

One of our members, Sandie from McGaheysville, VA has early-onset Parkinson's. She has days where she experiences more stiffness in her joints than others. Her trainer Melissa works with her as a team to assess how her body feels on each exercise.

“We're able to adapt each workout based on her energy level or her level of feeling, stiff joints or not. And she knows that no matter what by the end of the workout, she feels much stronger and she feels that that has helped her with some of her symptoms.”

To learn more about exercise’s role in slowing Parkinson’s disease progression, enjoy this presentation from Daniel M. Corcos, PhD, professor of Physical Therapy and Human Movement Sciences at Northwestern University. Dr. Corcos answers many of the questions about how to combat Parkinson's disease through progressive resistance exercise and endurance exercise.

Strength Training for Parkinson’s … It Helps.

As a whole, strength training improves muscle strength, muscle tissue, endurance, walking ability, balance, and the effort needed to perform daily activities for those with Parkinson’s.

With this in mind, strength training is an excellent option to help stop or reverse the physical and functional effects of Parkinson’s disease.

If you would like to learn more about our method of strength training, read about our methodology. If you are new to The Perfect Workout, try a workout with us and start with a FREE Introductory Session.

  1. Cadore, E. L., Casas-Herrero, A., Zambom-Ferraresi, F., Idoate, F., Millor, N., Gómez, M.,…& Izquierdo, M. (2014). Multicomponent exercises including muscle power training enhance muscle mass, power output, and functional outcomes in institutionalized frail nonagenarians. Age, 36(2), 773-785.
  2. De Kam, D., Smulders, E., Weerdesteyn, V., & Smits-Engelsman, B.C. (2009). Exercise interventions to reduce fall-related fractures and their risk factors in individuals with low bone density: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Osteoporosis International, 20, 2111-2125.
  3. Kelly, N. A., Ford, M. P., Standaert, D. G., Watts, R. L., Bickel, C. S., Moellering, D. R., … & Bamman, M. M. (2014). Novel, high intensity exercise prescription improves muscle mass, mitochondrial function, and physical capacity in individuals with Parkinson’s disease. Journal of Applied Physiology, 116(5), 582-592.
  4. Volpi, Elena et al. “Muscle tissue changes with aging.” Current opinion in clinical nutrition and metabolic care vol. 7,4 (2004): 405-10. doi:10.1097/01.mco.0000134362.76653.b2

Helping Others Improve Their Lives

Helping others improve their lives: a trainer's privilege

It’s exciting to anticipate the physical changes that come from exercise- seeing muscle definition, watching inches drop from your waist, becoming strong enough to carry all the groceries from the car and finally fitting into that outfit hanging in the closet… you know the one. ?

But what if we told you that many of our clients experience unexpected, life-changing improvements like ditching their canes, eliminating decades-long chronic pain, or fighting off neurological disorder symptoms.

We can confidently say that quality of life is improved by using our method and working with our Personal Trainers.

Meet one of our talented team members who is helping our clients make that happen every day.

A few years ago, Melissa Martin became an empty nester. Her 4 kids were out of the house and she began to ask herself, “What do I want to do? What do I want to do that's going to feel like fulfillment for myself in a career?”

Working out was always important to her and her family. All four kids were active in sports and it was a lifestyle they were all accustomed to living.

Staying fit was a personal priority for Melissa. She had previously worked with a Personal Trainer to help her stay in shape and maintain accountability.

“I knew the impact that [trainers] had on my life when I had a really good trainer, and how inspiring they could be.”

Years before joining The Perfect Workout, Melissa was introduced to slow-motion strength training by her own Personal Trainer.

“I became familiar with it and it really worked for me. I could really see a huge difference. I gained a lot of muscle.”

After her Trainer moved on to another career, Melissa returned to a more traditional workout, spending hours in the gym.

“It's a lot of time out of your day. And then once I started to get back into the workforce, my kids got a little bit older, I didn't have that time. I didn't have time to spend three hours in the gym. So then, my physical fitness started to lag.”

She always had the super-slow method in mind– how effective it was, how much she was able to achieve in a short amount of time and the results she got.

When Melissa began to answer the question of “what do I want to do now?” She knew she wanted to become a Personal Trainer herself. And when she found The Perfect Workout, she said, “this is the place that I want to work.”

She ultimately joined The Perfect Workout training team at our Falls Church Studio in Virginia.

She's passionate about your health

Melissa is extremely passionate about helping her clients achieve life-changing fitness goals.

Melissa works with one client who’s only been training virtually– she’s never actually trained with us in our studios, only from the comfort of her own home.

This client used to worry about going to public places where there were steps to get in the door. She avoided one church service because this particular church had four or five steps at the entrance.

She didn't feel like she could do that.

When she went to sit in chairs she always worried about whether it was too low, or if she’d be able to get back up.

What was the first thing Melissa did to help her?

Grabbed a chair and practiced getting up, getting down. Now, she can get up and down from a chair with no problem.

“She has that functional strength now. She's let go of the things that were inhibiting her and she now has the freedom to not have to overthink. Can I go to this place? Can I get in and out?”

Our Personal Trainers enter the fitness industry because they’re passionate about health and exercise. They not only help people reach their goals, they improve their clients’ quality of life.

More than just a workout. It's a relationship.

Melissa has been one of the many trainers leading clients through their virtual training sessions while studios are temporarily closed.

Despite physical distancing, she’s found the relationships with her clients have become more personal than ever.

“When you're in the studio, it kind of becomes your home and you're welcoming the clients in. Switch that to virtual, and they're inviting you into their home. And it is a very personal thing.”

When Melissa first began virtual training with Sandie Mullikan, she picked up her iPad and took Melissa on a tour around her house and gave her a glimpse into her homelife.

“That’s not something that ever could have happened otherwise. It was an unexpected gift from this very stressful situation.”

Helping clients hurdle limitations

Sandy has early onset Parkinson's. Sometimes she has days where she experiences more stiffness in her joints than others. Melissa encourages both Sandy and her to come to each workout as a team, assessing how her body feels on each exercise.

“We're able to adapt to each workout based on her energy level or her level of feeling, stiff joints or not. And she knows that no matter what by the end of the workout, she feels much stronger and she feels that that has helped her with some of her symptoms.”

A privilege to be a part of your journey.

Each of our clients comes to us with a goal and sometimes it’s a vulnerable experience sharing that with a Trainer.

“It takes a lot of personal strength to come in and say, ‘Will you help me?’ and when they decide that yes, you're going to be a good fit, and let's work together, that's a privilege for me to be able to try to help them on their journey.”

To see how our program changes people’s lives and gives them the power of strength is extremely fulfilling for Melissa.

“It’s more than a blessing to me. That's the absolute privilege of what I get to do every day.”

Want more information about our workout? Read about Slow-Motion Strength Training HERE.

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