Art for Parkinson’s Disease: Creating Strong Hands

By: Saba M. Shahid, M.S.

Making any kind of art work 95% of the time requires your hands and is an activity that tends to be a sedentary. Similar to how it is not good to sit in front of your computer for 8 hours at a time at work, it is also not good to work on an art piece without taking breaks to stretch. So, take breaks, stretch, paint and repeat in order to rejuvenate your muscles and body.

Hand exercises can strengthen your wrists and keep your fingers flexible! To help prevent cramping and encourage fine motor movement these are some of the exercises we do during our Painting with Parkinson’s Workshops that help promote a healthy environment.

Try them out! For added benefit, do each exercise 10 times and count out loud to exercise your vocal cords!

Hand Exercises:

  • Alternate Colors and Fingers: Imagine that these two colors have been grabbed from your paint palate. Take two fingers and place one on each color. (You can also draw two circles on a piece of paper to do this exercise). You will do the exercise by tapping two fingers while simultaneously alternating which finger you tap. So, start with your pointer finger on the blue blob and your middle finger on the yellow. Tap your pointer finger then your middle finger. Start slow to get comfortable with the movement and then alternate which two fingers you place on the paint blobs. As a challenge, increase your tapping speed and count how many taps you can do in 30 seconds.

paint blobs

  • Tennis Ball Squeeze: To make this exercise count you have to squeeze and give it all you got! Make sure you hold the ball in the palm of your hands and wrap your fingers around the ball to completely enclose it. Squeeze your tennis ball for 10-15 seconds then switch to your opposite hand. If you feel comfortable with this exercise challenge yourself to a 30 second squeeze per hand.


  •  Fingers to Thumb: Stretch your hand out in front of you spreading your fingers as far out as they can possible go. Starting with your pointer finger touch your thumb, bring your pointer finger back to the original position and then bring your middle finger to your thumb. Work your way to your pinky alternating a finger after each touch to the thumb. Make sure your fingers always return to the starting position before moving to the next finger. Start slow and gradually increase the speed as you get better. As a challenge, try and do this exercise simultaneously on both hands.


Questions or comments visit us at or contact Saba Shahid at




Get Your Plate In Shape: Parkinson’s Disease Nutrition Advice

Every move we make, from picking up a mug, to stirring sugar into our coffee, to swallowing that first sip is controlled by dopamine, a neurotransmitter found in the brain that helps regulate movement and emotional responses. Dopamine deficiency results in Parkinson’s Disease (PD). As dopamine levels decline, the simplest movements such as drinking coffee in the morning become increasingly difficult for those who live with PD.

Here are some smart nutritional strategies that can help ease your PD side effects:

Strengthen Your Bones: Up to 68% of people living with PD experience falls due to muscle stiffness, frozen movement, shuffling, stooped posture, and balance problems.1 Be sure to include three servings of dairy such as low-fat or non-fat milk and yogurt in your diet every day to maintain bone density.  The National Osteoporosis Foundation reports that women age 50 and younger require 1,000 mg of calcium per day, whereas, women 51 and older require 1,200 mg daily.2 Men age 70 and younger require 1,000 mg of calcium daily, whereas, men 71 and older require 1,200 mg daily.2

Levodopa and Food Interaction: Research shows that monitoring food intake can also help your PD medications work more effectively. People taking levodopa often times experience two things when they take it. On an empty stomach, levodopa can cause nausea and vomiting. On a full stomach, absorption of levodopa can be delayed making it seem like the medication is not working and is causing PD symptoms to return. Therefore, this medication works best when taken about ½ hour before meals or at least 1 hour after meals.3 If you experience nausea, take your medication with a slice of whole grain bread or some crackers. It is best to avoid acidic drinks such as grapefruit juices when experiencing nausea.

Fava Beans: Fava beans, also known as broad beans, contain the same active ingredient that is found in Parkinson’s medication Levodopa. The whole fava plant, including the leaves, stem, and pods, contain levodopa.1 When fava beans are consumed, the body converts the levodopa into dopamine. Three ounces of fresh green fava beans may contain about 50-100mg of levodopa.1 Before adding fava beans to your diet, talk to your physician to discuss this nutritional option and any concerns you may have associated with eating fava beans.

Quench Your Thirst: The human body is composed of 60% of water! Drinking eight or more cups of water throughout the day will keep you hydrated and will help prevent muscle cramping and will allow your body to regulate processes such as digestion. Adequate water intake will also help prevent constipation, a common symptom of PD. Consuming warm liquids (water, green tea) in the morning help stimulate bowel movements. Consuming 4-5 ounces of water while taking medication such as Levodopa will also allow the drug to be absorbed in the body more quickly.

Are You Smarter than a Food Label?: To determine how much nutrients you are obtaining in a serving read the nutrition facts panel of the food label and look for the percent daily value (DV). Percent daily values are usually based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs. I like to recommend following the 5/20 DV Rule. DV of 5% is low and a DV of 20% is high. Your goal is to maximize “good” nutrients (Calcium, Fiber, Vitamin) and minimize “bad” nutrients (Saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium) ensuring that the nutrition facts panel has a DV listed of 20% or more for “good” nutrients and 5% or less for “bad” nutrients. Read the label below for quick tips and to practice the 5/20 Rule!


This post was written by Saba Shahid, Professor of Human Nutrition at Massasoit Community College and the Owner of The Art Cart a program that specializes in spreading smiles and healing through art to the Parkinson’s population. Questions or comments? Contact Saba Shahid at


  1. Yeager, Selene. The Doctors Book of Food Remedies: The Latest Findings on the Power of Food to Treat and Prevent Health Problems–from Aging and Diabetes to Ulcers and Yeast Infections. Emmaus, PA: Rodale, 2007. Print.
  2. “Calcium and Vitamin D: What You Need to Know.” Calcium and Vitamin D: What You Need to Know. Web. 05 Apr. 2016.
  3. “Parkinson’s Disease Diet/Nutrition Recommendations.” WebMD. WebMD. Web. 05 Apr. 2016.

Let’s Get Those Hands Dirty: The Benefits of Finger Painting and Parkinson’s Disease

By: Saba Shahid, M.S.

There is something about having paint on your finger tips that allows you to be free and leaves you without worries. Most adults run when they hear the words “finger painting.” However, with a little bit of encouragement,  once in the groove people with Parkinson’s disease enjoy this art activity and create beautiful pieces! Continue reading to find out why finger painting can be a fun experience to enhance your creativity:

1. It is soothing:  As you move your hands throughout the canvas, your fingers act as the brush. Your mind decides what section of the canvas you should go to next. You’re focused on nothing else but the canvas in front of you. The texture of the paint on your hands puts you in a soothing emotional state.

2. Stimulate your senses: Touch, sight, hearing… all three of these senses are actively engaging to give you the full experience of completing your masterpiece while you finger paint. Who would have thought that finger painting can help give you a full body experience!

3. Develop fine motor skills: Unconsciously, you are developing your motor skills by moving your arms, hands, and fingers. When finger painting we tend to move our hands and fingers in ways that we would not normally do if we were holding a paint brush. These movements help strengthen your hands and fingers developing your fine motor skills. This is also a time where you can take advantage of the hand tremors you experience to help you create a texture filled background!

4. You are allowed to get messy: This is probably one of a handful of activities you can do without worrying about making a mess! Finger painting allows you to be free in your approach, your mind is in control, and without any instructions you unleash your creativity and unconsciously start bringing your canvas alive through color.

5. You make music: Finger painting helps you bring together two forms of art-painting and music! Tapping your fingers, one by one, two by two, or alternating them in different ways all creates a different sound. When you finger paint in a group setting it is really amazing to hear the different sounds that are produced when people are using different finger movements to transfer the paint onto their canvas.

I encourage you to seize this opportunity by grabbing some paint and unleashing your creativity through your fingers!

Questions or comments? Send us an email at


Release the PD Artist Within

Release the PD Artist Within
By: Saba Shahid, M.S.


I believe making art, specifically painting, gives a full body experience to those with Parkinson’s disease (PD). During my Smile Through Art Painting with Parkinson’s Disease Workshops, I witness just this. Today, I would like to share with you why you should take a chance and release the PD artist within!

Top 5 Reasons Why You Should Release the PD Artist Within:

  1. Art Makes You SMILE:When you finish something that YOU created, you smile and feel These feelings cause an increased release of feel good neurotransmitters and you start feeling better and your mood is elevated! During my Smile Through Art Painting with Parkinson’s Disease Workshops, 86% of the PD participants that join our sessions have reported that prior to starting their art activity they were content but after completing their masterpiece they were happy and felt more positive about themselves!
  2.  Art Promotes Mental Stimulation: Did you know making art improves concentration and mindfulness? While creating art you use both your left and right sides of the brain. A recent study published in NeuroImage suggests that people who are better at drawing have more developed brain structures.1 During our workshops, my PD Artists listen to the instructions I give and concentrate on creating their masterpiece. From what they hear and what they see they stimulate their mind and use their visual and motor senses to mimic what I am doing. Their concentration increases and for a few hours they forget the anxieties and stress that come along with PD.
  3. Art Promotes Development of Fine Motor Skills: Holding a paintbrush requires effort! During our Smile through Art Workshop, we work on our fine motor skills by grasping onto our paintbrush and focus on creating a steady hand to work against the tremors that are present. Extension and flexion, extension and flexion, a movement of the arms is made to bring the brush to every corner of the canvas. The best part is that we do these moves unconsciously without thinking that we are exercising!
  4. Art Promotes Relaxation: Art allows you to function as a whole being. As you start painting or making any form of art, your parasympathetic system kicks in and causes your heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rates to decrease. You feel relaxed and the colors you work with help you enter a state of colorful bliss. Studies have also shown that the use of color impacts calmness, comfort, warmth, and serenity.2
  5. Art Promotes Fun: Making art is FUN! This is your chance to try something new and combat the areas of PD that you struggle with. Many of my PD Artists are first time painters. Prior to coming to an art workshop they were anxious by the simple thought of painting. I always like to tell my PD Artists and will tell you that each one of us has an artist within. So try something new, have fun with it, and create your very first masterpiece!

 How Can You Get Started:

  1. The Art Cart Offers SMILE Kits: Our SMILE Bags come equipped with everything you need to start your very first art activity (painting, sculpture, drawing, etc.). If you sign up for our monthly subscription you can get a new art activity enclosed with everything you need for $25.00 per month. Our SMILE Kits are designed to give you the same experience you would get if you were attending a workshop in person. If you are interested in purchasing your very first SMILE Kit contact us at
  2. Adult Coloring Books: These can be found at your local Michaels store or online at

Questions or comments? Interested in participating in a Smile Through Art Painting with Parkinson’s Disease Workshops or getting your very first Smile Kit? Visit our website,, or send us an email at


  1. Hogenboom, M. (2014, April 17). Artists ‘have structurally different brains’ – BBC News. Retrieved January 27, 2016, from
  2. Cherry, K. (2015, October 7). Can Color Really Change How You Feel and Act? Retrieved January 27, 2016, from