Beneficial exercises for people with PD

The following list is a compilation of accessible movements. They are grouped by position, but otherwise, are in no particular order. Examples or benefits are provided beside some of the exercises for clarity. This is not an exhaustive list.

How you choose to teach an exercise (as is, modified or embellished) will depend on your client’s needs, age, mobility and level of enthusiasm. Keep a record of what works well and what does not as you build your own repertoire of effective movements for your clients.

Seated exercises with a vertical spine

  • Shoulder shrugs/rolls/shimmy
  • Swimming arms
  • Heel bumps (avoid with dyskinesia)
  • Foot slides (sagittal, or wavy line, or adducted for cross body movement)
  • Foot pivots (helpful to secure thighs with ball between knees)
  • Ankle dorsiflexion (foot taps)
  • Open and close knees with feet flat on floor
  • Psoas isometric (hand presses into thigh as toes press down and heel lifts)
  • Marching (lift heel of one foot + opposite arm forward)
  • Cross body gestures (self-hug, pulling a sash across the body, head turns with arm reaches across the body, crossing and uncrossing ankles)
  • Cervical rotation (ask people to look at big objects in the room as they turn their heads)
  • Hands sliding alternately on thighs with thoracic rotation – no head/neck movement
  • Pulling reins (for shoulder girdle movement)
  • Windmill arms
  • Kayaking arms
  • Bow and arrow arms

Standing exercises with a vertical spine

  • Split stance forward/backward rocking (to activate multifidi)
  • Hula hoop hip circles with feet wider than hip distance
  • Figure 8 hips with feet wider than hip distance
  • Pedaling feet (stand parallel, lift one heel while the other stays down; add speed as appropriate)
  • Hip hinge or bowing (ask people to hinge over a table for a more accurate hinge at the hips)
  • Hold and turn a steering wheel – use a resistance ring (e.g. Magic Circle™) or a small stability ball to simulate an actual steering wheel
  • Arm slides, circles, rainbow, figure 8 on a wall
  • Step-touch side to side
  • March like a soldier
  • Step back and open to the side with arm and foot as if presenting something
  • Backward steps (start parallel, step back with one foot, return to parallel and repeat on other side)
  • Squats
  • Lunges (pump back heel up and down to move front and back leg)
  • Golf swing rotations

Exercises for somatosensory input to feet, hands, face

  • Move eyes – helps to manage fixation and stimulates visual cortex
  • Breathe (cues: grow torso bigger on the inhale and smaller on the exhale to free thoracic spine)
  • Vocalize (ask people to make audible sounds on the exhale; have… you make sounds too)
  • Place a ball between knees to help maintain alignment and tracking of the thigh and leg bones
  • Hold a resistance ring to activate upper body muscles from hands to chest and upper back
  • Use a chair for supports – lean against the back, press “sitz bones” (pointy parts of distal pelvis) into the seat of the chair
  • Place a balance cushion (e.g. SitFit™) under feet for stimulation of the foot proprioceptors

Interactive exercises done in partners, seated

  • Face each other and hold a ball together; then ask them to move the ball together in different directions
  • Face each other while touching one or both hands together; ask them to start moving as if they are mirroring each other
  • Sit back-to-back and press into each other to sit taller; ask them to side bend or turn side to side without losing contact; you could also ask them to link arms as they move

Interactive exercises done in partners, standing

  • Waltzing – assume the dance position for waltzing, take a step in the same direction together while holding hands and then take a step the opposite way
  • Face-to-face mirroring movements – press palms together, move arms in various planes
  • Side-by-side arm swings – hold hands and move arms in forward and backward sweeps
  • Face-to-face mimicking of exaggerated facial expressions
  • Face-to-face “call and answer” – one person asks a question and the answers (use big voices)
  • Face-to-face pedalling or pony feet – press hands gently together while moving the feet
  • Hip glides (squat)
  • Hand tapping, foot tapping in time with each other

Supine exercises

In the supine position it is more difficult to see demonstrations. Try standing beside the person at a 45º angle. If you are teaching online, avoid the supine position, or ensure that a family member or friend is willing to provide the demonstration.

  • Sagittal arm arcs while holding a prop like a balance cushion, resistance ring or small ball
  • Figure 8 arms while holding a prop like a balance cushion, resistance ring or small ball
  • Leg slides (add unstable prop under pelvis if applicable to client)
  • Open/close knees (include opposite arm leg coordination too for cross body effect)

Do any of the above with a balance cushion under the pelvis as long as the person is able to stay on the unstable surface and not fall off.

Do any of the above while lying on a foam roller as long as the person is able to stay on the unstable surface and not fall off. Alternatively, place the roller under the knees, feet, head or thoracic spine.

Side lying exercises

  • Lie on side, facing a wall; slide straight or bent arm up and down a wall; switch sides
  • Hip abduction with knees bent and a pillow between knees (ask clients to press into the pillow to deflate it and then lighten the pressure to inflate it)
  • Leg circles
  • Side kick (forward and back leg sweep with extended knee; add flexed knee)
  • Pelvic rotation (innominate rocks forward and back to move innominate, femur and spine)
  • Side bridge


Build your program based on the following:

  • Client goals and aspirations (what do they want to do and why)
  • Goals for PD programming
  • Duration of class – avoid overwhelm and exhaustion by determining an appropriate duration (30, 45, 60 mins) and a number of exercises that leave clients feeling strong, able and motivated
  • Energy level and/or age of your clients
  • Postural needs (e.g. kyphotic t-spine)
  • Symptoms identified by the clients