Hearing the words, “You have Parkinson’s disease,” is life-changing, no matter what your circumstances are. There are a variety of activities that get much harder when you have this condition. Among them is walking normally.
Walking with Parkinson’s is challenging, but it is far from impossible. Read on to discover some tips and tricks that can keep you putting one foot in front of the other for as long as possible.
Walking Challenges Parkinson’s Patients Face
Before we get into different techniques that can make it easier for Parkinson’s patients to walk, let’s talk about some of the challenges these people face. For one thing, the stiff muscles and rigidity that can characterize some forms of Parkinson’s disease make it difficult to take normal steps. Instead, patients may begin to take short, shuffling steps and moving more slowly.
Freezing is another common problem that plagues people living with Parkinson’s disease. This phenomenon can make it feel as though your feet are stuck to the floor and can’t move at all. Freezing may occur more often when a person is approaching a narrower space, such as a hallway or elevator.
Walk to a Beat
One of the best ways to mitigate some of the challenges of walking with Parkinson’s disease is to walk to a beat. Part of what Parkinson’s does is alter the area of your brain connected to balance. If you’re distracted or focusing on something other than your steps when you’re walking, your brain may not be able to provide the balance input it needs to for you to take the next step.
Try walking to a beat, as this regular input can help sync your brain and your body. Because you don’t want to walk with distractions, as this can make things worse, you may want to walk to a metronome, rather than music. If you do listen to music, pick songs with a strong beat that you know very well to minimize distractions.
Get into Spy Mode
Another major problem Parkinson’s patients have is that their entire foot tends to land on the ground at once, rather than landing heel and then toe. This can cause the shuffling gait we mentioned and may force you to shorten your steps. You want to make each step intentional so that your feet land in the proper posture every time you take a step.
It may sound silly, but one great way to make each step intentional is to pretend you’re in one of those spy movies and having to navigate a web of lasers. With each step you take, act as though you’re stepping over one of those laser lines. This will help you place your heel on the ground first and keep you walking more normally.
Avoid Carrying Things
Most of us don’t pay much attention to how much we carry around with us every day. We have our phones, keys, purses, coffee, grocery bags, plates, laundry, kids, or backpacks in our hands almost everywhere we go. But for Parkinson’s patients, this extra load can be too much for your brain and can overload your sense of balance.
If possible try to avoid carrying things while you walk, especially in your hands or arms. Put your phone and keys in your pocket or purse, and swap that purse out for a cross-body model that you don’t have to hold onto. Around the house, get a tray trolley that you can use to transport dishes or laundry instead of carrying them in your hands.
Stop and Start Again
Freezing is a terrifying experience, and it may start as suddenly as it stops. You can feel like your feet are literally frozen to the floor and you’re entirely unable to move. This will often last only a few seconds, but there are some tips you can use to take control back and break that freezing cycle.
When you feel your feet freezing, stop walking and take a deep, intentional breath in. Focus on standing up straight, rolling your shoulders back and down and realigning your spine so you’re standing tall. Take another breath, and then take an intentional step forward; this moment of stopping and starting again can break that freezing sensation and get you back in motion.
Staying active and working on your balance is one of the best ways for Parkinson’s patients to stay mobile. Think of the balance center of your brain like any of your other muscles; in order to keep it strong, you have to use it every day. One great way to do this is to start taking dance classes, especially ballet classes.
Ballet classes focus on core strength and balance and provide the sort of gentle stretching that can keep you limber and active. Look for a class in your area geared towards seniors, or even a class designed for Parkinson’s patients. Be careful and go at your own pace, but work on the balance exercises you learn every day to slow down the decline in that area of your brain.
Practice Tai Chi
If dance isn’t your style or there aren’t any classes in your area, tai chi can also be a fantastic option. Like ballet, this discipline focuses on slow, controlled movements and a strong sense of balance. And because tai chi moves so slowly, it’s a perfect option for people who may be struggling to find their balance.
Our advice for tai chi is very much the same as for ballet: look for a class in your area geared toward seniors, and try to practice the exercises you learn every day. As you get stronger and gain balance, you may be able to start working towards advanced maneuvers. Always keep your safety as a top priority, and don’t push your body too hard.
You Can Walk if You Have Parkinson’s
When you get a Parkinson’s diagnosis, it may be easy to feel like it’s only a matter of time until you’re wheelchair-bound. And while walking with Parkinson’s can present some challenges, these are not insurmountable. Make each step intentional, pause and begin again when you experience freezing, and do your best to stay active.
If you have Parkinson’s and you’d like to continue walking as long as possible, check out the rest of our site at Training for All Ages. We help to educate, motivate, and inspire people to get in their best shape, no matter their age or condition. Contact us today and start seeing new results from a new mindset.