What I can do throughout the day besides exercise that can help with my Parkinson’s?
Helen P, Victoria BC, Canada

Hi Helen,

Here are three easy routines to perform daily that can make an important difference for people living with Parkinson’s disease.

I’m probably the only trainer that is encouraging people with Parkinson’s to suck on hard candy, but doing this daily can actually address some important issues that can occur with Parkinson’s disease.

Individuals with neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s, can have significant deficits in their G.I. tract, which can be improved by performing exercises that improve the individual’s “vagal tone.”

Discussing the connection between Parkinson’s and the G.I. track, EureklAert, a scientific magazine, reporting on a recent research project said:

The research has presented strong evidence that Parkinson’s disease begins in the gastrointestinal tract and spreads via the vagus nerve to the brain. Many patients have also suffered from gastrointestinal symptoms before the Parkinson’s diagnosis is made.

“Patients with Parkinson’s disease are often constipated many years before they receive the diagnosis, which may be an early marker of the link between neurologic and gastroenterologic pathology related to the vagus nerve ,” says Elisabeth Svensson, PhD.

Following are 3 easy to perform routines or habits that you can perform daily that can address some important issues that can occur with Parkinson’s disease. Individuals with neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s, can have significant deficits in there G.I. tract which can be improved by performing exercises that improve the individual’s “vagal tone.”

Vagal tone refers to the general health or function of the heart, lungs, internal organs and the digestive tract. Strategies that encourage the stimulation of blood flow to the digestive tract are extremely important for people living with Parkinson’s disease as problems with the digestive system and the swallowing of food are common.

If the vagal tone is weak there will also be reduced digestive enzymes which can lead to dangerous complications such as poor nutrient absorption and dysbiosis (a microbial imbalance). Below are three fun and easy activities you can perform throughout the day to encourage the restoration of vagal tone and improve your overall health and well-being.

32547159_s1. Sucking on hard candy

The act of sucking causes movement of the tongue and the benefits far outweigh the small amount of sugar consumed with a piece of hard candy. You can also choose a sugar free brand. In addition to encouraging blood flow to the digestive track, this will also keep the tongue strong, coordinated and active. According to the Mayfield Brain & Spine Clinic, sucking on hard candy is also good for people living with Parkinson’s because it have a positive effect on controlling saliva accumulation by encouraging more regular swallows as swallowing can become a less automatic reflex.1,2

The tongue is of course vital in the process of consuming both food and beverages. Swallowing and clearing the mouth of food after a meal can become difficult with Parkinson’s so sucking on a piece of hard candy daily can be a very useful strategy to keep the tongue active and strong. Choose whatever flavor you like!

2. Protruded tongue patterns

Although you will likely want to perform these in the comfort and privacy of your home, another technique which can improve vagal tone is extending the tongue and performing repeated patterns. Try drawing an “X” or spelling the name of your favorite pet with the tip of your tongue. Perform this exercise without moving your head and keeping the neck in a neutral position.

A variation of this technique that requires head movement is also very effective. Stick your tongue straight out of your mouth and slowly turn your head to the right while moving your tongue as far as you can to the left. Mobilize back-and-forth between these two positions staying within a pain-free range of motion but attempting to broaden the movement with every turn.

You can perform these exercises for five minutes sessions a few times a day. You’ll noticed the difference, and so will your friends if you don’t perform them alone.

3. Gargle

As discussed above, Parkinson’s can make it difficult to swallow effectively. It can also cause a weak gag reflex. To keep this reflex response healthy and the muscles that participate in it reactive, try gargling a glass of water a few times a day. Performing this after a meal will also have the added benefit of clearing the mouth of food particles that can lead to gingivitis.

Hopefully you have become proactive in the management of your condition and you are actively searching for strategies to make things better. This is a tricky path and there is a lot of faulty information to be found online. I encourage you to become a student of the disease and learn to distinguish between products that have value and those that make false and unsubstantiated claims.

Unfortunately, there are many found online that peddle products that don’t work to those who are vulnerable and desperate to try anything to make things better, regardless of cost. When in doubt, consult with your neurologist or medical professional.

I hope you find Ask Patrick to be a useful and trusted source for Parkinson’s information that makes things better. Everything that you read on Ask Patrick is researched and validated. As I like to say, I’ve seen small changes make big differences so keep your chin up and stay strong! You can make a difference by fighting back. Keep up the hard work and I’ll see you at the gym!


USE AT YOUR OWN RISK: Patrick LoSasso’s videos are for informational purposes only. Consult a physician before performing this or any exercise program. After consulting with your physician, it is your responsibility to evaluate your own medical and physical condition, and to independently determine whether to perform, use or adapt any of the information contained here. Any exercise program has an inherent risk of injury. By voluntarily undertaking any exercise displayed herein, you assume the risk of any resulting injury.

1. Mayfield Brain & Spine Clinic, “coping with parkinsons disease”

2. Parkinson’s Disease Foundation: Gastrointestinal and Urinary Dysfunction in PD

3. American Parkinson’s Disease Association Educational Supplement 26: What is Dysphagia

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