Physical Activity Benefits Parkinson's Patients

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture
Physical Activity Benefits Parkinson's Patients

Parkinson’s is known as a disease that causes the progressive decline of physical and cognitive function, but recent research suggests that regular exercise may impede the disease’s progression.

Eric Breitenbeck, wellness coordinator with MFit, the health promotion division at the University of Michigan Health System, has witnessed just how beneficial exercise can be for those with Parkinson’s. Through his work with clients, he has seen people with various stages of Parkinson’s improve joint mobility, posture, coordination and balance. Overall these benefits help patients better perform activities on a daily basis.

“We see an increased ability among clients who regularly exercise to do things that they had not been able to do independently, like going up and down a flight of stairs or getting into a car,” Breitenbeck says. “Getting into a habit of physical activity certainly has long-term benefits.”

There are two programs that MFit offers to accommodate a person’s individual needs and specific conditions. One is FitScript— a medically based and supervised program that devises an individualized exercise regimen for clients who have specific health conditions. The other is a personal training service that gives clients the opportunity to independently work with a fitness expert.


All MFit personal trainers have college degrees in exercise science, sports medicine or similar fields, and many staff members have additional training and certifications in order to work with those who have special health needs. Personal trainers aim to integrate a variety of exercises in order to prevent a client’s body from becoming accustomed to the same routine. They also work with individuals to set up goals at each training session; if a patient uses a walker, for example, the client is urged not to use it during the appointment. While each regimen differs depending on a Parkinson’s patient’s progression and circumstances, Breitenbeck says one standard remains consistent: taking exercise day by day.

“Some days are worse than others when it comes to a condition like Parkinson’s,” Breitenbeck explains. “So it is really important that someone working out really listens to their body.”

Dean Millard, an 84-year-old Ann Arbor resident, has been a client of MFit’s FitScript program for five years and works with Breitenbeck two to three times a week. As soon as Millard walks through the fitness center’s doors, he puts aside his walker, which he uses in everyday life. Breitenbeck then leads Millard through various exercises using equipment such as benches and weight machines.

“It’s convenient, it’s easy, and it’s available,” Millard explains of the FitScript program. “I know that exercise has delayed the progression of my Parkinson’s, and I know that I have become stronger. That is why I keep coming back.”

For those interested in beginning an exercise regimen, Breitenbeck stresses the importance of speaking with a health care provider first—especially when a chronic condition such as Parkinson’s is involved. But he notes that once a doctor’s approval has been sought, the benefits of exercise are undeniable.

“Exercise just makes you feel good,” says Breitenbeck. “It keeps your mind working as well as your body. Many people don’t realize just how much better they can feel by exercising until they get into a routine of doing it.”

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