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Parkinson’s Disease and the Benefits of Hiking and Pole Walking

By: Dr. Brianna Bacich, PT, DPT, NCS

With everything closed during quarantine, it is the perfect time to get out and explore the neighborhood! Walking has many great benefits for everyone! Each year the National Parkinson’s Foundation hosts Moving Day, an event and walk to raise awareness and funds for Parkinson’s Research and wellness. However, this year they will be holding Virtual Moving Day, where you can participate in work-outs and tune in from home. This foundation helps to fund many of the classes for our patients! In today’s blog, we’ll go into how aerobic exercise can help with Parkinson’s Disease and talk about a fun way to get your daily exercise and enjoy some beautiful southern California sunshine!

Link to Virtual Moving Day:

Aerobic Exercise:

We’ve all heard it before, “eat right and exercise”. But, if you have a diagnosis of Parkinson’s, at any stage, this has even more important. The research has shown that progressive aerobic exercise (power walking, biking, boxing, cardio) has been shown to optimize brain health and efficiency. It protects vulnerable neurons in the brain, enhances recovery of damaged circuits in the brain, and helps to untap other parts of the brain! However, the exercise needs to be rigorous (get that heart pumping!). Very importantly, exercise helps to prime the brain for learning, enhancing the brains ability to learn new skills. In a 2010 and 2015 study, exercise 3x/week for 6 weeks was shown to change the brain, increasing dopamine receptors and improving brain signaling in Parkinson’s patients.

Hiking Pole Walking:

Using hiking poles has many benefits for Parkinson’s patients and everyone! It is a whole body exercise that forces arm swing, cues for upright posture, increases step length, provides stability for balance, and allows for active stretching.

For Posture:

- Using the hiking poles cues for that good posture, allowing you to stand up straight and look up. No more slouching down which is a very common complaint for people.

- The poles also act as additional balance support, allowing you to walk with less fear of falling and more confidence

For Freezing:

- That upright posture also helps to reduce freezing! When you stand up straight, it keeps your body weight over your feet. When you slouch forward it causes your weight to move forward, and with gravity that pulls you down and forward, increasing freezing and small steps (Power up!)

- Using the hiking poles also cues for long steps, increasing your stride length which is a wonderful cue to reduce freezing. (Big Step!)

- Repetition matters! With repeated steps, the brain learns that is the natural pattern, allowing you to continue your long steps when not using the poles as well (Practice! Practice! Practice!)

For Rigidity:

- When using the poles, you have to use your arms to bring the poles forward. This allows you to practice your arm swing, which is commonly decreased in Parkinson’s Disease

- The use of the poles also increases the movement in your spine and trunk, reducing rigidity and gaining flexibility

For Tremor:

- Hand tremor is also a common symptom of Parkinson’s Disease. The tremor occurs when the hand is at rest, and reduces when the arm and hand are activated and moving. Holding onto the pole lets you practice holding onto objects and strengthening your hand muscles.

For Aerobic Exercise:

- As mentioned earlier, aerobic exercise is essential for everyone, but especially those with Parkinson’s. Using the poles to get outside and walk increases your heart rate and allows you to work on endurance in a fun way that you can do safely with friends and family.

Let’s get moving!


  • Fisher et al. Exercise-induced behavioral recovery and neuroplasticity in the 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6,-tetrahydropyridine-lesioned mouse basal ganglia. J Neurosci Res. 2004 Aug 1;77(3):378-90

  • Fisher et al. The effect of exercise training in improving motor performance and corticomotor excitability in people with early Parkinson’s disease. Arch Phys Med Rehabil 2008 Jul; 89(7):1221-9

  • Petzinger et al. Enhancing neuroplasticity in the basal ganglia: The role of exercise in Parkinson’s disease. Mov Disod 2010; 25(suppl. 1): S141-S145

  • Vukovic et al. Exercise elevates dopamine D2 receptor in a mouse model of Parkinson’s disease. In vivo imaging with [F18] fallypride. Mov Disord 2010; 25(16):2777-2784

  • Petzinger et al. Exercise-enhanced neuroplasticity targeting motor and cognitive circuity in Parkinson’s Disease. Lancet 2013; 12:716-726

  • Jakowec et al. 2016. Engaging cognitive circuits to promote motor recovery in degenerative disorders. Exercise is a learning modality.

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