3+ evidence-based benefits of exercise for Parkinson's disease

The Bottom Line

  • Globally, millions of people live with Parkinson’s disease and navigate its impacts on their lives.  
  • Exercise is one strategy that may help to improve movement, walking speed, balance-related activities, and quality of life in people living with Parkinson’s. Falls reduction is another potential benefit.  
  • Speak with your healthcare team about if and how exercise can be safely incorporated into your treatment plan.   

Over the past 25 years, the number of people living with Parkinson’s disease has doubled (1). This means that millions across the globe face the challenge of managing Parkinson’s-related impacts on various aspects of their health and well-being (1-4). Movement, balance, walking speed, falls, and quality of life are a few of the affected areas. But exercise is one strategy that's here to help (2-4)!

Click on the links below to learn more about what benefits exercise can offer people living with Parkinson’s.

1. Enhanced movement  

Research shows that, compared to no exercise, a range of structured and supervised exercise types may help enhance movement in adults with Parkinson’s. More specifically, dance, aqua-based training, gait/balance/functional training, combined exercise training, endurance training, and mind‐body exercises may improve movement by moderate to small amounts. The good news doesn’t stop there! Moderate to small improvements in quality of life can also be seen with aqua‐based training, gait/balance/functional training, and combined exercise training. Our confidence in these findings ranges from high to low (2).

2. Improved walking speed and balance-related activities   

Research shows that, compared to usual care, prescribed home-based exercise programs can improve walking speed and the ability to perform balance-related activities by a small amount in adults with mild to severe Parkinson’s but no cognitive impairment. These are short term benefits occurring right after the completion of an exercise program. Similar improvements in quality of life can also be seen, but they’re not immediate and may occur weeks to months after completing an exercise program. If you’re wondering how home-based exercise programs stack up against centre-based exercise programs — like those done in medical or community centres — you’ll be happy to know that they may be equally effective for these outcomes (3).

3. Reduced Falls

Research shows that, compared to usual care or a non-active strategy, exercise can reduce falls by about 26% in people with mild-to-moderate Parkinson’s. What’s more, exercise can also reduce the number of falls experienced by about 10% in individuals within this population who fall one or more times. Small boosts in health-related quality of life may also occur right after engaging in an exercise program. More research is needed to further support these findings (4).

Whether at home or in a centre, exercise can help people living with Parkinson’s tackle some common concerns that affect their daily lives. Those interested in integrating exercise into their treatment plan should consult their healthcare team. Discussions should include whether exercise is an appropriate strategy for them based on their individual condition, what specific exercises may best meet their needs, and how to safely engage in exercise (e.g., level of supervision needed, most appropriate setting, adapting exercises to consider mobility limitations, etc.).

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  1. World Health Organization. Parkinson disease. [Internet] 2023. [cited June 2024]. Available from:  https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/parkinson-disease
  2. Ernst M, Folkerts A-K, Gollan R, et al. Physical exercise for people with Parkinson’s disease: A systematic review and network meta‐analysis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2023; 1:CD013856. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD013856.pub2.
  3. Flynn A, Allen NE, Dennis S, et al. Home-based prescribed exercise improves balance-related activities in people with Parkinson’s disease and has benefits similar to centre-based exercise: A systematic review. J Physiother. 2019; 65(4), 189-199. doi: 10.1016/j.jphys.2019.08.003.
  4. Allen NE, Canning CG, Almeida LRS, et al. Interventions for preventing falls in Parkinson's disease. Cochrane Database Sys Rev. 2022; 6:CD011574. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD011574.pub2.

DISCLAIMER: These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (info@mcmasteroptimalaging.org).

Many of our Blog Posts were written before the COVID-19 pandemic and thus do not necessarily reflect the latest public health recommendations. While the content of new and old blogs identify activities that support optimal aging, it is important to defer to the most current public health recommendations. Some of the activities suggested within these blogs may need to be modified or avoided altogether to comply with changing public health recommendations. To view the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada, please visit their website.