Health & You: Parkinson’s Disease & Swimming

drpool-med-bookWelcome back class, take a comfy seat!

In our continuing series on Health & You, we turn to our attention to Parkinson’s disease – a progressive disorder that affects the nervous system, and while there is no cure, there are methods and practices to reduce the pain and build muscles, like medication or brain stimulation, nutrition, and of course, exercise.

What treatment options are available, and can swimming have a positive impact on sufferers of Parkinson’s disease? Let’s dive deeper into the subject matter.

  1. Definition of Parkinson’s Disease
  2. Parkinson’s Treatment Options
  3. Swimming & Parkinson’s

bluecrossParkinson’s Disease Defined

Parkinson’s disease affects the movement, and is a disorder of the nervous system. It is developed gradually over time, often beginning with small tremors in one hand. While tremors are a common sign of the disease, the disorder itself causes stiffness or slow movement.

Parkinson’s can show itself differently – for example, a person’s arms may not swing as they walk, speech can become slurred or a person’s face can lose expression.

Parkinson’s is part of a larger group of conditions that are known as Motor System Disorders. These are a result of the loss of dopamine-producing cells in the brain. Over time it shows itself more in various ways such as difficulty with walking, talking or task completion. It usually is seen in people who are over the age of 50. In some people the disease takes effect quicker than in others.

Symptoms include tremors, slow movement, rigid muscles, impaired posture and balance, loss of automatic movements, speech changes and writing changes.

Parkinson’s can interfere with daily activities, as more symptoms emerge such as depression or emotional changes, and difficulty in swallowing, talking and chewing. It can be hard to diagnose, but doctors can scan or test to rule out other diseases. or known causes.

Tremors are the involuntary shaking that much of the time begins in a limb such as the hand or fingers, and most often occur when a hand is relaxed or at rest.

Bradykinesia, or slow movements is a manifestation that reduces the ability and speed of movement. This makes simple tasks difficult and more time consuming. You may drag your feet as you walk, making it harder to move.

Stiffness or rigid muscles can be felt on any area of the body. It can cause pain and limit the range of movement. Posture and balance can also be an issue, and blinking, smiling and swinging your arms when walking can also be a challenge due to Parkinson’s. I

Speech can become difficult, as it affects executive function, cause slurred speed or quick talking, or hesitation and stuttering. Writing can become difficult and illegible.

bluecrossParkinson’s Treatment Options

Parkinson’s is progressive and chronic, and persistent. It can be worse for some than others. For some it can be a minor disruption, while for others it becomes a severe and crippling disability. Parkinson’s manifests itself differently for every individual patient, as well as the intensity of the symptoms.

Cures? There are currently no known cures at this point for Parkinson’s, but there are medications that can lessen symptoms. Such medications include levodopa combined with carbidopa. Levodopa will synthesize into dopamine in key areas of the brain. Cardbidopa is taken also, to delay the conversion of the levodopa into dopamine until reaching the brain.

Anticholinergics are medications used to help control the tremors and rigidity that many suffer. When these drugs fail, surgery may be an option to reduce the nerve activity in the limb.

Deep Brain Stimulation is a therapy approved by the US Food and Drug administration. In this therapy, electrodes are implanted into the brain and connected to a pulse generator, which can be programmed externally. Ultimately it can reduce tremors and reduce the need for levodopa and other similar drugs.

Another option is Dopamine agonists – these drugs mimic dopamine effects in the brain, but they do not change into dopamine. They are not as effective as levodopa with treating symptoms, but they do last longer.

Dopamine agonists include oral tablets such as pramipexole (Mirapex), ropinirole (Requip) or in a topical skin patch rotigotine (Neupro). For quick relief of muscle stiffness and slow movements, advanced stage patients may use apomorphine (Apokyn), an injectable form of synthetic dopamine.

bluecrossSwimming & Parkinson’s

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.

Before submersing into any exercise program, it is important to speak with a doctor first, as all cases can vary. Your doctor can help with recommending specific types of aquatic exercise, and intensity and duration of the workout. The best exercise for you may not be suitable for others with Parkinson’s.

It is important to remember that no matter what exercise is chosen, that one should warm up and cool down after the exercise, and never push yourself too hard.

Facial exercises working the neck, facial muscles and jaw can help with speech and expression difficulty. Singing, reading aloud and making funny faces while exercising the voice are also useful methods. Even just chewing food aggressively can help reduce symptom frequency, duration and strength.

Water exercises such as water walking, water aerobics, water yoga are easy on the joints and require less balance than when on land. Avoid slippery floors, throw 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 sufferers, especially for those who have enjoyed it in the past.

Get your Swim On America!
Dr. Pool

Dr. Pool


“NINDS Parkinson’s Disease Information Page.” Parkinson’s Disease Information Page: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, n.d. Web.

“Parkinson’s Disease.” Symptoms. Mayo Clinic, n.d. Web.

“Parkinson’s Disease.” Treatment. Mayo Clinic, n.d. Web.

“Parkinson’s Disease.” Definition. Mayo Clinic, n.d. Web.

“Safe Exercise and Parkinson’s Disease: Types, Intensity, Warming Up, and More.” WebMD, n.d. Web.



Health & You: Parkinson’s Disease & Swimming — 2 Comments

  1. I am interested if you have any information on swimming and diseases such as PD, MS, lupus, and heart disease. I am wondering if by chance you have ever come across any such information. I am doing some medical research on grounding and these diseases and swimmers are grounded.

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