I’m not here to tell you why exercise or a certain type of activity like dance or yoga, is beneficial. Anyone can type “PD and exercise” into Google and read one of 63 million results. What I would like to share are the psychosocial implications that arise from engaging in movement. How movement enhances our emotional, social, and cognitive well-being is imperative following a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease.
Movement, our earliest form of communication, seems to be taken for granted only until we see it deteriorate or are faced with a degenerative disease that reminds us that our movements are so much more. They are a connection to ourselves and our environment. Engaging in movement is not just about maintaining our physicality, but about preserving our existence.
Assists in symptom management: Research has shown that movement can help manage problems with gait, balance, tremors, flexibility, and coordination. Improved mobility has been shown to decrease the risk of falling as well as other complications from PD. This often occurs because the brain is learning to use dopamine more efficiently.
Promotes self-awareness and identity: Every person has a different way of moving and certain affinities toward movement. It is those differences that promote a capacity for introspection and the ability to stand out as an individual. Muscle memory even has the ability to tap into memories stored in the brain. Movement has the ability to retain our memories and create new ones.
Maintains a sense of control: Connection to our breath, the most primitive form of movement, enables us to control our pulse rate, circulation, and even our thoughts. This is so important for when we feel like things are out of our control or when our body is not functioning the way we would like, we have the power through our own breath to take back a sense of control.
Builds psychological resilience: Movement has the ability to actually increase our adaptability to stress and adversity. Reinforcing our own connection to the body empowers our psyche and encourages inner core strength. This core I’m referring to isn’t your abdominals, but rather your identity. Connecting to the muscles in your chest, torso, and pelvis tap into your belief system, identity formation, and personality.
Maintains social connections: From early on in human existence, there is documentation of celebration and rejoicing through song and movement. Movement has the ability to connect us with others without verbal communication. We can join in someone’s experience just by witnessing and empathically embracing their body language.
These 5 ways in which movement enhances our mind body connection are just the tip of the iceberg. Movement is more than just exercise and physical fitness. Movement is body language, expression, and creativity. Movement is an innate part of being human and just because that ability changes when diagnosed with PD, that does not mean that we should give up all that it entails. It is even more imperative that we engage in movement to preserve that very part of who we.
Erica Hornthal is a licensed professional clinical counselor and board certified dance/movement therapist. She received her MA in Dance/Movement Therapy and Counseling from Columbia College Chicago and her BS in psychology from University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana.
Erica is the founder and president of North Shore Dance Therapy and Chicago Dance Therapy. As a psychotherapist in private practice, Erica specializes in working with older adults who are diagnosed with dementia and movement disorders. Her work has been highlighted nationally in Social Work Magazine, Natural Awakenings, and locally in the Chicago Tribune as well as on WCIU and WGN.
Every April, the Parkinson’s Foundation engages the global Parkinson’s community to support Parkinson’s Awareness Month. When we raise awareness about Parkinson’s and how the Foundation helps make lives better for people with PD, we can do more together to improve care and advance research toward a cure.