Can I still go swimming if I have Parkinson’s Disease?

Swimming is an excellent form of exercise and has many potential benefits, such as improving stamina while providing a solid all-body workout. Whilst aquatic exercise has been shown to improve motor impairments (such as a shuffling walking pattern), balance ability, and quality of life in people with Parkinson’s Disease (PD). However, recent evidence has shown that the swimming ability in people with PD may be impaired.


This is thought to be due to the involvement of the entire body along with complex movement sequences and muscle coordination required for swimming. In PD, one of the chemicals in the brain that helps to send messages between areas in the brain has a reduced production. This chemical is known as dopamine and has an important role in helping the brain to organise and control physical body movements. When there is less dopamine, there is a reduced ability to control movements, and one of the consequences of this is poorer coordination, and this may impact swimming ability. Additionally, PD can affect posture and cause a stooped or “hunched over” appearance, and this can also affect swimming ability. When swimming, this stooped posture can affect the position of your body in the water and can make it more challenging to swim efficiently and effectively.  

Wait, so does that mean I should not be swimming?

Absolutely not! If you have PD and you enjoy swimming or want to start swimming, then it’s completely feasible to keep going or to get involved! The only thing is, there may be some additional considerations to make sure you can engage with water activities safely. Regardless of any health conditions, there is always a drowning risk with water activities, and this risk is higher if you have PD. If you have any questions or concerns about starting or continuing swimming, speak with your GP or an accredited exercise specialist such as an Exercise Physiologist. 

Any recommendations for swimming and Parkinson’s Disease? 

There are a few general tips for people with PD who want to swim: 

  • Consider your swimming background and your current confidence being in the water. Have you participated in swimming before? Are you currently swimming already? Is this a new activity for you? Think about what you would prefer to do, whether that is joining an organised class, having lessons, or just going to your local pool to do your own session. 

  • Take someone with you! It’s always more fun to go with a familiar face, plus they can help you if you have any difficulties.  

  • Make sure the pool you swim at is supervised with lifeguards on duty. 

  • Ask your local pool to ensure they have good access into and out of the pool, such as a ramp or stairs and handrails. 

  • The water temperature should be comfortable for you. If you feel cold in the water, you can always add a layer of water clothing, but note that this will increase the difficulty of swimming. 

  • Start by swimming in the lane closest to the side walls of the pool so you can hold onto the wall if needed, especially if you feel less confident. If the pool has a deep end, remember you don’t have to swim there! It’s ok to stay in the shallower end.

  • Don’t overdo it! Start with something manageable and you can always progress next time. Remember, you’re in control and listen to your body. 

Written by Mitch Abagi

References

Cugusi, L., Manca, A., Bergamin, M., Di Blasio, A., Monticone, M., Deriu, F., & Mercuro, G. (2019). Aquatic exercise improves motor impairments in people with Parkinson's disease, with similar or greater benefits than land-based exercise: a systematic review. Journal of physiotherapy, 65(2), 65-74.


Neves, M. A., Bouça‐Machado, R., Guerreiro, D., Caniça, V., Pona‐Ferreira, F., & Ferreira, J. J. (2020). Swimming is compromised in Parkinson's disease patients. Movement Disorders, 35(2), 365-369.


See, J., Denomme, L., Sims, K., Tilden, H., & Wykle, M. O. (2015). Aquatic Exercise: An Exercise Program for People with Parkinson’s Disease. Retrieved from https://www.apdaparkinson.org/uploads/files/Aquatic-Book_8-08---edited-2015-oUM.pdf