Parkinson’s Europe ExerciseCast: How to stay active during the coronavirus crisis

Health & Fitness

Author: Saskia MairPublished: 9 April 2020

Parkinson's LifePrep: Parkinson's LifeCook: Parkinson's LifeServes:

Parkinson’s Europe has launched a new online exercise programme to help people with Parkinson’s stay active while in lockdown during the coronavirus pandemic. Josefa Domingos, Parkinson’s Europe board member and a physiotherapist specialising in Parkinson’s, tells us about the inspiration behind the project and why “it’s more important than ever to find new, engaging ways to stay active”

Can you explain what Parkinson’s Europe ExerciseCast is?

Parkinson’s Europe ExerciseCast is an online programme created by the Parkinson’s Europe (Parkinson’s Europe) that offers exercises for people with Parkinson’s that are surprisingly fun, by combining voice, movement and cognition. It’s based on work I’ve been doing for some years with my colleague, John Dean – a speech language pathologist who also specialises in working with people with Parkinson’s. We share ideas ​to help people with Parkinson’s to stay well, as the world faces the on-going Covid-19 crisis.

The videos challenge our viewers to interact with the instructor and peers, and they can also join us in a live session so we can see their initial reaction to our work. If we fail, we will fail and laugh ­– if we succeed, then even better.

The goal is to provide friendship, emotional support, and guidance to other people with Parkinson’s: “making a difference, one episode at a time”.

Why is Parkinson’s Europe ExerciseCast so important during the current Covid-19 crisis?

The world has changed in the past three weeks. That means our patients’ needs have changed, so our services have to change too. Because we are stuck at home until further notice, it’s more important than ever to find new, engaging ways to stay active.

Anxiety and stress levels are also extremely high with all the uncertainty which may impact overall symptoms.  

We need to demonstrate that Parkinson’s Europe and Parkinson’s community can provide genuine support for each other. We hope we can transform social distancing into ‘distant socialising’.

What motivated you to start the project?

Early this month, John and I were in social lockdown in Colorado, US, and started to discuss how Covid-19 could impact Parkinson’s community. I often hear from people with Parkinson’s that they feel worse inside the house, especially if they suffer from motor fluctuations. And now many of them are confined to their homes! We can only imagine how much the Covid-19 situation will impact everyone’s motivation, mobility and quality of life in general.

We started brainstorming about how we could help, combining socialising, fun and exercise, and ended up designing the new ExerciseCast for Parkinson’s Europe. We know people with Parkinson’s have difficulties with many of the most common daily activities such as sitting, standing, turning, walking, often while maintaining a conversation or doing other additional tasks, so we compiled a collection of exercises specifically built to address these issues. We have also challenged ourselves to feature exercise ideas using household furniture and items that most people have in their homes. 

Josefa Domingos and John Dean

How can physiotherapy help people with Parkinson’s?

Exercise has been shown to improve general wellbeing, but specifically with Parkinson’s, it helps improve motor functions that tend to respond less well to medications, like gait, balance, posture and falls. There’s also new evidence suggesting its potential impact on non-motor issues like cognition and sleep.

What has been your experience so far of the coronavirus pandemic?

As a professional I’ve been challenged to think ‘inside the house’, find new ways to help people and continue building useful knowledge. But I must admit, I have been surprised by how much we can do virtually.

It has been inspirational to see family members, close contacts and health professionals come together and have such an important role in motivating people with Parkinson’s to keep socially and physically active in this new context.

What’s your advice for Parkinson’s community at this challenging time?

Adjusting to social distancing will be one of the most stressful events in the life of any person right now, affecting mental, physical and social wellbeing.

Try to find a way to live comfortably with the daily uncertainties. Exceptional moments demand exceptional behaviour, so please exercise! Focus on what you can do and keep looking for good sources of information and uplifting messages.

Watch episode one of Parkinson’s Europe ExerciseCast: ‘The body speaks & spells’.

Find out more about Parkinson’s Europe ExerciseCast here.

Need to know:

Josefa Domingos is a physiotherapist and researcher who has spent the last 15 years working with people with Parkinson’s. Josefa lives in Lisbon, Portugal, where she is a clinician, educator and researcher at the Laboratory of Motor Behaviour, Sport and Health Department, University of Lisbon.

She is an observer board member of the Parkinson’s Europe and National Health Coordinator at the Portuguese Parkinson Patient Association (APDPK). She is currently finishing a PhD on the ‘Practicalities of Community-based exercise in Parkinson’s’ at Radboud University Centre in the Netherlands.

Exercise and Parkinson’s

  • Research indicates that exercise can be neuroprotective – meaning it can slow down the progression of Parkinson’s. It can also provide physiological benefits
  • Ask for professional medical advice to find activities that suit your fitness and mobility level
  • Include a mixture of stretching, strengthening, weight bearing and balance exercises, alongside aerobic activity
  • Make sure you warm up first, and don’t try to do too much too quickly
  • Try to stay motivated and have fun! 

Read more about exercise and Parkinson’s here.

Read more:

Mindfulness toolkit: maintaining your mental health during lockdown

6 tips to stay active while living with Parkinson’s

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