Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects movement, balance and coordination. Folks with this progressive disease can experience muscle rigidity, tremors and stiffness in the trunk, arms and legs. That said, according to research published in Movement Disorders, “exercise programs may be an effective strategy to delay or reverse functional decline for people with Parkinson’s disease.”
Personal trainer Jamel Ramiro, who’s also the co-founder of California-based Moonman’s Mistress, which creates healthy paleo-centric cannabis edibles, has found regular exercise—along with plenty of sleep and a nutrient-rich diet—has helped improve the quality of life for the clients he works with who have Parkinson’s disease.
Following are six moves that Jamel regularly incorporates into his sessions with Parkinson’s patients demonstrating a higher level of mobility. Most of the moves include progressions to suit different levels of strength—Jamel encourages Parkinson’s patients to further modify any move to match their level of fitness.
The exercises focus on building core strength and improving stability, coordination and balance. Have a look at our how-to video featuring Jamel as he takes two folks, Kevin and Jerry, both living with the disease, through each of the moves.
6 Moves to Help Improve Core & Balance in Parkinson’s Disease Patients
Start with a warm-up that includes dynamic stretching to help warm up the core and open up the joints—specifically, the ankles, knees, hips and shoulders.
Get into a push-up position, feet hip-width apart and hands about shoulder-width apart. Keep your abs engaged and glutes firing—looking down, but with chin off the chest; head, neck and shoulders in line. Hold this position for 15–30 seconds (depending on your ability) and then slowly lower your body to the ground. Push yourself back up and repeat 2 more times for a total of 3 reps.
Progression: With a partner, get into a push-up position a couple of feet apart, facing each other. Tap opposite hands—playing “patty cakes”—alternating on each side for a total of 5 taps with each hand. Keep hips square towards the ground and prevent your body from twisting as you tap hands. Repeat 2 more times, resting in between, for a total of 3 sets.
Modification: If full push-up is too challenging, try this move with your knees on the ground.
Purpose: Build core stability and strength.
2. Farmer’s Carry
With your body aligned and neck relaxed, hold one heavy kettlebell (or a dumbbell) at your side. Maintain good posture, keeping a stable spine and shoulders away from ears. Walk 20 steps forward, turn and walk 20 steps back. Repeat on the other side.
Progression: Hold one kettlebell directly over your shoulder in the overhead position, keeping your other arm by your side. Walk 20 steps forward, turn and walk 20 steps back. Switch sides. Repeat for a total of 2 sets.
Advanced Progression: Keeping body aligned, hold kettlebells (or dumbbells) in both hands overhead, walk 20 steps forward and back. Repeat for a total of 2 sets.
Purpose: Improve posture and balance; build core stability; promote strong, fluid bipedal locomotion.
3. Standing Single-Leg Raises
While standing with a stable spine and shoulders down and back, raise your arms out by your sides, then lift one leg off the floor in front of you to a 90-degree angle. Lower your leg slowly to the floor and repeat for a total of 10 times while bracing your core. Switch sides and do 10 reps with the other leg, trying to maintain balance and stability.
Progression: Hold a dumbbell in each hand and do a bicep curl each time you raise and lower your leg according to the basic description above. Do this 10 times with each leg.
Advanced Progression: Hold a dumbbell in each hand and do 10 bicep curls while holding your leg in the 90-degree position, maintaining balance and stability. Repeat on the other side.
Purpose: Improve balance; strengthen core and upper body.
Kneeling Superman: While maintaining a neutral spine, kneel on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Reach your right arm forward and your left leg back, keeping your core tight and a straight line from head to toe. Keep hips square towards the ground and prevent your body from twisting as you lengthen. Lower your arm and leg and repeat on the other side. Do this on each side 5 times.
Progression—Superman: Lie face down, neck relaxed, on your stomach with arms and legs fully extended. Lift your arms and legs up towards the ceiling, as if you’re flying, opening up your chest (lifting it off the ground) and arching your back while keeping your torso on the ground. Hold for a few seconds and slowly lower back down. Repeat for a total of 10 reps.
Purpose: Build and strengthen core and spinal stability.
5. Agility Ladder Drills
Hopscotch In-Out Drill: Stand with feet hip-width apart at the bottom of the ladder. Hop into the first square with both feet, then hop out with both feet on the outside of the second square. Hop back into the third square with both feet, then hop out with both feet on the outside of the fourth square. Repeat this pattern until you reach the end of the ladder.
Toe-Tap Drill: Stand to the left side of the first square, feet at a 90-degree angle to the length of the ladder. Tap the toes of your left foot into the first square and return it back to the outside of the ladder, then quickly tap your right toes into the first square and return your foot back. Continue down the side of the ladder, tapping first your left, then your right toes into each square in quick succession.
In-In Out-Out Drill: Stand with feet hip-width apart at the bottom of the ladder. Step into the first square with your left foot and immediately follow with your right foot. Step back out of the square with your left foot and follow with your right foot. Repeat this pattern, advancing to the second, third and fourth squares, until you reach the end of the ladder.
Do all 3 drills once as fast and as accurately as possible, with a short rest in between each.
Purpose: Improve coordination and balance; promote cardiovascular endurance.
On a soft surface, start in a kneeling position and raise your arms out by your sides. Lift your right foot up and plant it in front of you, then bring your left foot forward to stand up, pressing through your heels. Bring your left knee down followed by your right knee so that you’re kneeling, making sure to keep your chest up, torso and pelvis aligned. Start the next rep by leading with your left foot, then following with your right. Complete 3 sets of 10 reps.
Progression: Holding a dumbbell in each hand overhead, complete the basic exercise as described above. Complete 3 sets of 10 reps.
Purpose: Focus on deceleration of the lunge to improve balance and build core stability and strength.
As with any fitness program, finish off with a cool-down that includes stretching all of the main muscle groups.
“To move well is to live well,” says Jamel. Certainly, the research supports this—as does anecdotal evidence pointing to Parkinson’s patients who’ve managed to slow the disease’s progression through moving, eating and sleeping well.