For some people, exercise can also be helpful for alleviating pain or symptoms. It can’t stop the progression of Parkinson’s, but it can improve issues such as balance and help maintain muscle tone. Various exercises can help, but specifically swimming has advantages over land based exercises.

Advantages of warm water exercises:

  • Freedom of movement promotes increased range of motion (ROM) and improved function
  • Improvement in muscle tone
  • Reduced stiffness and pain
  • Soothing effect helps increase tolerance for exercise
  • Continual adjustment to the dynamic environment heightens body awareness that may enhance posture and motor control during walking
  • Aquatic exercise participants have reported improved bowel function
  • Social interaction and enjoyment decreases feelings of isolation and depression and creates an overall sense of well-being

Gloria Fahey, 80-years-old from Newport Beach, enjoys swimming once a week to help with her Parkinson's symptoms. "It helps me feel better and it is easier in the water both mentally and physically." Gloria swims once a week at a 45 minute class held in Irvine. The two things she enjoys the most are the warm water and the social interaction with the other swimmers.

Water exercises such as water walking, water aerobics and water yoga are easy on the joints and require less balance than when on land. For safety, avoid slippery floors, rugs and poor lighting around the pool. Make sure to exercise within reach of a safety rail or wall and use care when making your way in and out of the water.

Swimming does provide for good cardiopulmonary exercise and builds muscle strength. Because the head, arms and legs are doing different things, it can increase coordination. The water’s buoyancy prevents accidents from falling, while the resistance amplifies the effort and effect of movement. Water exercises in chest-high water can be a good choice for Parkinson’s patients. Individuals with Parkinson's disease should seek always approval from their primary caregiver before beginning any new exercise program or altering a current program.

While exercise will not reverse the symptoms of PD, it can enhance quality of life. It can help you feel stronger and more in control. Before you hit the pool this year, learn more about the techniques and benefits of water exercise. For more information, download your copy of the American Parkinson Disease Association's (APDA) booklet, Aquatic Exercise.