5 Impressive Proven Benefits Of Yoga For Parkinson’s Disease

Shruti Baikerikar

(B.E. Biotechnology, PG Clinical Research)
Independent Researcher, Health Writer & Founder of Salubrainous [Full Bio]

Yoga for Parkinson

Name: Yoga, Hatha Yoga
Number of scientific references: 25
Level of Evidence: Level III What is this?

Note: Yoga helps in Parkinson’s disease by improving motor function, reducing tremors and improving balance and gait. It can help protect mental health, cognition and improve the quality of life of patients.

Regular yogic practice can protect brain health and reduce the risk of developing neurodegenerative disorders. Yoga therapy can be used as a potential add-on therapy for Parkinson’s disease.

Yoga originated in ancient India. The name was derived from the Sanskrit word, Yuj which means to unite or integrate. This infers that yogic practices harmonize your mind and body. [1]

It helps achieve a balance between the mind and body to bring peace within.

Multiple studies prove its ability to regulate blood sugar levels, improve muscle ailments and maintain healthy functioning of the cardiovascular system.

It affects the mind by reducing negative feelings, depression and anxiety and improving mental energy and positive feelings. [2]

Interestingly the current trend is to include yoga as a medical therapy so as to heal and treat medical conditions and is popularly practised as Medical Yoga.

Research shows that yoga helps in Parkinson’s disease by improving gait, motor function and balance. It also protects mental health, memory and cognition. Yoga can be a potential add-on therapy for managing Parkinson’s disease symptoms.

5 Impressive Proven Benefits of Yoga For Parkinson’s Disease

Let us look at some intriguing research studies conducted to evaluate the benefits of Medical Yoga therapy in the prevention and treatment of Parkinson’s disease.

1.Yoga can relieve symptoms of Parkinson’s disease

Patients with Parkinson’s disease experience symptoms that include stiff muscles, difficulty in moving or walking, tremors, sleep disturbances, impaired cognition, anxiety and depression.

Various research studies have found that incorporating yogic practices as a part of the therapy helps reduce tremors, bradykinesia and other symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and helps improve mobility.

Controlled pilot study of the effects of power yoga in Parkinson’s disease

Ni et al. Complementary Therapies In Medicine, 2016

According to a study published in Complementary therapies in medicine, 2016, a three-month yoga program conducted regularly for patients with mild to moderate Parkinson’s disease brought about a considerable improvement in physical functions and overall quality of life. [3]

The control group, on the other hand, patients who did not practice yoga, showed no improvement in the symptoms.

Yoga helped reduced symptoms like Bradykinesia (slow movements) and rigidity. It increased muscle strength and power in the patients practising yoga on a daily basis.

Comparative Effect of Power Training and High-Speed Yoga on Motor Function in Older Patients With Parkinson Disease

Ni et al. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 2016

Power training and high-speed Yoga program are different forms of physical activity.

Power training is a combination of strength and speed. It is often done by athletes.

High-speed yoga involves faster breathing exercises that not only leads to high calorie expenditure but enables faster processing of the brain.

A comparative study report published by Ni et al. in 2016 revealed that both techniques (Power training and High-speed yoga) brought about an equal, significant improvement in physical performance of older patients with Parkinson’s disease. [4]

The training was performed twice a week for a period of 12 weeks regularly.

Incorporating yoga into an intense physical therapy program in someone with Parkinson’s disease: a case report.

Moriello et al. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, 2013

Researchers have tested the effects of an intense Yoga program involving strengthening exercises, balance, agility and yogic exercises for 12 weeks on Parkinson’s disease. [5]

As per this case report, the patient performed the intense 1.5-hour exercise (including yogic practice) twice a week for 12 weeks. Then he practised the same program at home for the next 12 weeks.

The yogic program combined with physical therapy exercise significantly improved mobility, reduced rigidity.

The patient’s score on Parkinson’s disease questionnaire improved by 16 points and his score on the mobility scale improved by 11 points. He experienced improvement in muscle length and dynamic balance and 29 months later he continued to work full time.

A randomized controlled pilot study of the therapeutic effects of yoga in people with Parkinson’s disease.

Sharma et al. International Journal of Yoga, 2015

Since a Parkinson’s patient experiences motor and cognitive deterioration, he may not be able to engage in standard exercise programs.

This is where yoga seems beneficial as the relaxing yogic poses can help achieve the desired results without much exertion.  The therapy can be made an intensive step by step to get the maximum benefits in physical performance.

A study published in the International Journal of Yoga, 2015 highlighted that yoga could improve quality of life in patients with stage 1-2 of Parkinson’s disease. [6]

The practice improved blood pressure, body weight and breathing capacity and lowered depression over time.

All Parkinson’s patients engaged in yogic practises experienced immediate tremor reduction as compared to those who did not practice yoga.

The positive results of yoga on Parkinson’s patients were visible within a period of 12 weeks of regular practice.

Effect of Yoga on Motor Function in People with Parkinson’s Disease: A Randomized, Controlled Pilot Study

Colgrove et al., Journal of Yoga And Physical Therapy, 2012

Clinical trials reveal the ability of yogic practices to improve mobility and balance in older patients suffering from patients and thus being crucial in preventing them from accidental falling. [7]

A research article published in the Journal of Yoga and Physical Therapy,2012 presented some important areas to address when designing a Yoga program for Parkinson’s patients. [8]

According to Colgrove and colleagues, the therapy should be designed such that it improves movement, flexibility, balance and mobility.

Yoga therapy was provided for 12 weeks and follow-ups were conducted 6 to 12 months after the therapy.

They observed that patients who practised yoga experienced improvements in motor function, ability to balance, improved joint and muscle flexibility, increased strength and improved posture.

Slight improvement in gait was also observed.

Quick Gist: Research studies involving Parkinson’s disease patients have demonstrated that yoga (for 6-12 weeks) improves physical symptoms of Parkinson’s.

It reduces rigidity and immobility. It helps to enhance motor functions, flexibility, balance and memory. It alleviates anxiety and depression and improves blood pressure and body weight as well.

2.It can protect mental health of Parkinson’s patients

Patients living with Parkinson’s disease experience depression and anxiety that negatively impacts their quality of living.

Laughter Yoga is a form of exercise that involves voluntary laughter. Laughter yoga, also called Hasya yoga, has been proven to be effective in improving mood in physically healthy adults.

But few studies are available for supporting the effectiveness of Laughter Yoga in Parkinson.

DeCaro et al. demonstrated the possibility of Laughter Yoga being effective in improving low mood in Parkinson disease patients. [9]

Their improvement in well-being was measured by observing the enthusiasm, energy levels, mood, optimism, stress level, level of friendship with group members, awareness about breathing, muscle relaxation, mental relaxation, and ability to laugh without a reason.

There was a significant improvement in well-being after the 45-minute Laughter Yoga session.

Yogic exercises need to be tailored such that they address symptoms like depression, fatigue and apathy.

These exercises may include relaxation techniques like Shavasana or breathing exercises that relax the patient without producing any kind of exertion and help alleviate their symptoms at the same time.

Adaptive Yoga involves tailoring traditional poses to the body of an individual rather than forcing the body into a specific pose.

Investigation of the effects of an 8-week adaptive yoga program on patients with Parkinson’s disease revealed that it improved depression, anxiety and balance in the patients bringing about a positive outlook to life, improving mobility and overall the quality of living. [10]

Another modification of yoga designed for patients and the elderly is Chair Yoga which involves performing yogic exercises while seated in the chair.

A study published in the Journal of physical activity and health in 2014 described statistical results of effects of Chair Yoga on elderly individuals. [11]

The results showed significant improvements in depression, anxiety, anger, wellbeing and efficacy of daily living on the health of the older patients.

Disturbance in sleeping patterns is observed in Parkinson’s disease.

Yoga seems to be effective in improving depression symptoms and quality of sleep in the elderly when practised for a long-term such as 6 months on a daily basis. [12]

Clinical trials comparing the psychological benefits of yoga with that of resistance training and stretching exercises are underway. [13]

Quick Gist: Yoga helps improve mental health in Parkinson’s disease. It helps alleviate depression and anxiety, sleep disturbances, wellbeing and overall quality of life.

3.It lowers inflammation and oxidative stress

Biological processes like excessive inflammation and oxidative stress can be detrimental to the brain cells and affect cognition and memory performance along with motor function in patients with Parkinson’s.

A study published in Brain, behaviour and immunity in 2016 revealed that mind-body therapies like Yoga help reduce inflammation by regulating the release of inflammatory markers and mediators like cytokines. [14]

It reduces production of signalling molecules that promote inflammation.

Chronic stress can induce inflammation and worsen cognition.

Researchers believe that if yoga can reduce the inflammatory responses induced as a result of stress its regular practice can be beneficial for overall health. [15]

Increasing evidence suggests that neurons in Parkinson’s disease are vulnerable to oxidative stress that triggers the demise of these neurons.

According to a study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary medicine in 2015, yogic practices can help reduce oxidative stress by improving antioxidant enzyme levels and strengthening immune defences. [16]

Oxidative stress contributes to the process of ageing. Ageing is associated with increased risk of neurodegenerative diseases.

Researchers conducted a 9-day educational yoga course for healthy patients.

The course included breathing exercises (pranayama), physical postures (asanas), a relaxation posture practised in yoga (Shavasana), lecture and films along with individual counselling to encourage the volunteers and explain them the importance of Yoga.

Blood samples from the volunteers was analysed and the results revealed a marked reduction in oxidative stress that was explained to be caused due to physiological stress. [17]

Yogic practices seem to be the best natural alternative to managing oxidative stress when incorporated daily in the lifestyle.

Quick Gist: Chronic oxidative stress and neuronal inflammation are underlying causes of Parkinson’s disease that need to be taken care of before they manifest themselves as severe complications in the disease.

Yoga relaxes the mind and body thereby reducing stress levels which are the main trigger for developing oxidative stress and inflammation.

Researchers say that practising yoga can help maintain a healthy balance of oxidative stress and pro-inflammatory agents.

4.Yoga can relieve stress and prevent cognitive decline

The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are known to worsen with stress. These stressful conditions may involve an increase in excessive free oxygen radicals and inflammatory mediators.

Cognitive decline with the progression of Parkinson’s disease is another major concern for the patients.

Cognitive decline results in an inability to concentrate and perform daily tasks.

A study published in Biological Psychology,2016 described the benefits of an 8 week Hatha Yoga program for elderly individuals. [18]

Hatha Yoga is a traditional form of yoga that comprises different postural and breathing exercises as well as meditation to bring peace to the mind and body.

The participants showed improvement in executive functions, cortisol levels (a hormone that participates in stress response and is responsible for regulation of mood, concentration and sleep) and enhanced cognitive performance.

Yogic practice attenuated stress and enhanced memory performance in the older adults.

Elderly individuals practising yoga show significant improvement in the ability to recall visual and verbal memories, attention, functions and processing speed as compared to the control group (those who did not practice yoga). [19]

Findings from a research study published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 2015 suggest the potential of yoga as an effective treatment strategy for preventing the risk of neurological disorders in the ageing population.

Yogic practices involving postural and breathing exercises and meditation specifically affects the brain waves and may bring about structural changes.

Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to undergo changes and adapt to new conditions throughout the life of an individual. Yoga seems to have positive neuroplastic effects on the brain. [20]

Cognitive functioning may also decline as a result of the depression experienced by Parkinson’s patients.

Targeting depression symptoms can reduce the risk of cognitive decline in the elderly especially those at the risk or suffering from Parkinson’s.

According to a research review published in Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2016, Yoga and exercise can reduce symptoms of depression and prevent age-related memory and cognitive decline in the elderly. [21]

Yoga seems to have positive physical as well as mental effects on the practitioner and thus is an effective therapy for Parkinson’s disease patients.

Quick Gist: Yoga practice can help relieve stress and cognitive decline in those suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

Studies in elderly individuals suggest that it enhances memory, reduces depression symptoms and improves sleep.

5.Yoga offers neuroprotection and can prevent Parkinson’s disease

There are limited studies that demonstrate the benefits yoga has to offer for the nervous system.

Since symptoms associated with Parkinson’s include shaking, tremor, anxiety and cognitive confusions and yoga incorporate practising breathing, appropriate posture and meditation it can directly affect the quality of life of patients suffering from Parkinson’s.

According to a study published in Frontiers of Human Neuroscience in 2015, yogis seem to have better cognitive functioning as compared to others who did not practice yoga.

The study described how the number of hours of practising yoga can have an effect on the cognitive decline of an individual and thereby protect age-related neurological diseases. [22]

Research studies reveal that yogic practices increases the grey matter volume (occupies a major composition of the brain) and thus improves the presence of mind, cognition and ability to concentrate and pay attention.

The longer the duration of practice the more will be the increase in grey matter volume. [23]

Yoga deeply emphasizes on meditation that helps enhance concentration, memory and trains the mind.

It also positively impacts neuroplasticity (the process of structural changes in the brain that occur throughout the life of an individual).

According to a study performed by Yang et al. 60 min sessions of yogic practices conducted daily for 12 weeks enhanced memory, cognition and induced positive neuroplastic effects in the elderly.

The neuroplastic effects were not significant, however, the researchers suggested the need for deeper research to demonstrate this effect. [24]

In their study, Gothe et al. demonstrated that 8-week yoga practice improves memory and brings about a shift in the mindset of healthy elderly individuals.

They suggested that regular yogic practice can help protect cognitive functioning in the ageing population. [25]

Quick Gist: Regular yoga practice helps protect the nervous system from age-related dysfunctions like impaired memory and cognition associated with dementia and neurodegenerative disorders.

Its positive impact on structural changes in the brain during the lifetime of an individual helps retain a balanced emotional state, better working memory and cognition.

Precautions with Yoga Practice For Parkinson’s Disease

It is important to consult a yoga teacher before initiating practice so that he/she can recommend which poses would suit your health.

It is advisable to customize the yoga asanas as per your needs eg: performing them in a seated position or supine position.

You could also consider including gentle breathing practices or pranayama in your routine.

Start with short duration but regular yogic practices under the vigilance of a teacher.

Conclusion

Studies involving patients with Parkinson’s disease have confirmed that yoga practice helps improve symptoms of the disease.

The different forms of yoga affect the body positively and are much safer in comparison to other physical training.

It helps improve motor function, reduces tremor, improves gait, increases flexibility and strength.

It also has positive effects on mental health, cognition, memory and improves quality of life of patients with Parkinson’s disease.

Regular yoga practice, especially in elderly individuals, can help improve and maintain various body functions as well as benefit brain health in a way that it can reduce the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.

Yoga can be utilised as a potential add-on therapy for managing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

Know the research-backed benefits of yoga of Parkinson's disease treatment and prevention.

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