Exercise and Parkinson’s disease
by Cindy Binkley, FLT Columnist
You’ve recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease (PD). Your doctor is discussing what the best treatment options are for you to manage your care, and one of them is exercise. You’re wondering how important exercise is to managing your PD. Exercise has been proven to help alleviate the symptoms of PD and is one of the most important keys to living a full life. It benefits both the physical and psychological well-being of people with PD.
With PD, the neurons — the brain cells that produce the chemical transmitter dopamine — are damaged and lost and there is a lag between the time when the loss of neurons begins and the time when Parkinson’s motor symptoms start to show. In fact, by the time most people are diagnosed, nearly 80 percent of their dopamine neurons are already gone. During this lag time, the brain is changing. The ability of the brain to change and compensate is called exercise-dependent neuroplasticity. On a day-to-day basis, people with PD who exercise can move more normally than those who do not. It is believed that exercise may be contributing to neuroplasticity — helping the brain to maintain old connections, form new ones and restore lost ones. Continuous research is being conducted on this and it is showing that exercise may actually outweigh the effects of degeneration.
What type of exercise is good for PD? If you’re newly diagnosed, it is a good idea to start by seeing a physical therapist. Because PD affects each person differently, a physical therapist can manage your specific situation and symptoms. Your treatment plan will be developed after an extensive evaluation. The evaluation will include many questions about how your PD affects your life and tests will be conducted to examine your posture, strength, flexibility, walking, balance and coordination.
Some of the medications that are used to manage PD symptoms may have an immediate effect. For example, movement is typically much easier shortly after you begin taking certain PD medications. Your physical therapist will know how to time treatments, exercise, and activity based on both the schedule and the effects of your medications to get the best results.
Once you have completed formal therapy, one of the best fitness programs to continue exercising with is Delay the Disease. This evidence-based fitness program, led by certified Delay the Disease instructors, is designed to empower people with PD by optimizing their physical function and helping to delay the progression of symptoms. The program is geared specifically to counteract the movement challenges experienced by people with Parkinson’s. Sessions are offered one-on-one or in small groups. You can find out more about Delay the Disease at http://www.delaythedisease.com.
Depending on the nature and severity of your PD, starting an exercise program may help you:
- Improve your fitness level, strength, and flexibility.
- Develop more effective strategies to get in and out of bed, chairs and cars.
- Turn over in bed more easily.
- Stand and turn to change directions more efficiently.
- Improve coordination while walking and decrease “freezing.”
- Improve your ability to perform hand movements and decrease tremors.
- Decrease your risk of falling.
- Climb and descend stairs and curbs.
- Do more than one task at a time more efficiently.
- Participate in activities that are important to you.
Paul Zieger, yoga instructor and person with Parkinson’s disease has a slogan: “When you have Parkinson’s, everything is therapy.” What he means is that your activities of daily living — every single one of them — provide you with an opportunity to add a little more grace, a little more strength, a little better body alignment, and a little more safety. Just keep moving!