Staying active with different conditions

Lots of people have other medical conditions as well as Parkinson’s. But staying fit and active can often help to manage a range of health conditions. In this article, physiotherapist Bhanu Ramaswamy discusses how different conditions may affect you physically and what exercises may help you stay well.

Physiotherapist Bhanu Ramaswamy smiling
By Bhanu Ramaswamy
Parkinson's Specialist Physiotherapist

Having more than one medical condition is called ‘multi-morbidity’. The period after retirement can increase the risk of being diagnosed with another condition. That is partly because we are getting older, but may be caused, or made worse, by an inactive lifestyle.

PHYSICAL CONDITIONS

There are lots of physical conditions that rely on you to keep fit and stay healthy to manage your symptoms. These include:

MUSCLE, BONE AND JOINT (MUSCULOSKELETAL) CHANGES

These include back or shoulder pain, arthritis and osteoporosis (a condition that weakens bones). These might develop because of the way stiffness or dystonia in Parkinson’s can affect the position of your joints and body posture. They can also be caused by past problems such as lower back pain, an injury, or lack of regular use, which can lead to weakness.

Problems with your heart and blood vessels

Many people with Parkinson’s experience changes to their blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. Changes in small blood vessels in the brain can affect memory and learning. In some cases these changes can cause dementia.

METABOLIC CONDITIONS

Metabolic conditions include putting on weight or developing Type 2 diabetes. It is thought that there are similarities in how diabetes and Parkinson’s start, which can lead to people with both conditions experiencing worsening movement problems.

In all these cases, regular exercise and physical activity can help manage your health conditions. There are lots of different types of exercise that are suitable if you have Parkinson’s and another condition.

Have a go

Aerobic exercise

For general health and fitness, physical activity or aerobic exercise (exercise that works and strengthens the heart and lungs) can be beneficial. It is recommended to do some moderate exercise or activity that gets you out of breath, three times a week. This could be jogging, fast walking, swimming or cycling. But it can also be strenuous housework and gardening – anything goes!

Resistance training

This is exercise that uses body weight or equipment to increase muscle strength. Studies have shown this is particularly helpful for people with Type 2 diabetes, and for those who need to keep muscles strong to protect their bones and joints.

Gentle exercise

If you have arthritis, you may not feel able to do aerobic exercise, or activity that impacts your joints. To reduce pain and to improve general function, you might wish to try a low impact activity, such as tai chi, or hydrotherapy, where the buoyancy of water can support your body weight.

Different movements

If you experience stiffness as part of your Parkinson’s, exercises should include large movements, to help keep muscles and joints flexible. But for everyone with Parkinson’s, exercises should also include balance and co-ordination sessions.