Exercise and Parkinson’s Disease
Last updated: 9.36pm, Thursday 20th February 2020
We all know exercise is good for us, but why is it particularly important when you have Parkinsons Disease?
We all know exercise is good for us, but why is it particularly important when you have Parkinson’s Disease?
Parkinson’s Disease is a neurodegenerative condition that affects movement. It’s cause is yet unknown, but we do know it results from a loss of dopamine-producing cells within the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that sends messages within our brain to allow for coordinated and controlled movement. As the dopamine-producing cells are lost, symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease appear. The main symptoms are tremor, stiffness and slowness of movement.
As symptoms develop, exercise is essential for symptom management. Exercise can reduce stiffness and fatigue as well as improve speed, balance, agility, amplitude and stamina. Functional exercise tasks can help with everyday activities, such as getting in/out of bed/car; getting off a chair, turning, climbing stairs etc.
However, what about people newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease who only have mild symptoms? With no functional difficulties? They may still be working and/or remain active? They may have a young family and adopt a busy lifestyle. Is exercise still as important for them?
The simple answer is YES. Over recent years, there is more and more research that shows the benefits of starting exercise straight from diagnosis. Evidence suggests that the correct type of exercise, at the right dose and frequency, can have a neuroprotective effect on the brain and slow the progression of symptoms.
For exercise to have a neuroprotective effect, it must consist of the following underlying principles:
Intensity - must be high intensity. Work hard, be out of puff, hot and sweaty. Circuit training or HIIT training where you have short bursts of intensity are a good example. You may go to the gym 3 times a week, but are you working hard enough to produce a neuroprotective effect?
Frequency - recommended at least 2.5 hours a week
Specific - research recommends that at least 2 sessions of exercise per week be Parkinson’s Disease Specific. Exercise Classes led by trained professionals can target deficits, whether that be hand dexterity, balance, small movements, flexibility, strength, posture etc. Exercises are adaptable, progressive and individualised.
Complex - to promote greater structural plasticity within the brain, the exercise must be challenging. This can involve adding mental tasks, changing direction, dual tasking, reciprocal exercises, planning, sequencing etc. The great thing about complexity is once an exercise is mastered, you can continue to progress it in different and fun ways.
Repetition - In Parkinson’s Disease, controlled sequential movements become more difficult. Patterns of movement that were automatic before are not so smooth.
The brain learns through repetition. Think back to school and learning the times tables. We did it over and over again, so much so that we still remember now. The more you do something, the better you become at it. And in Parkinson’s Disease, repetition can help restore lost or worsening movement patterns.
Powerful - power is a combination of speed and strength, both of which can decline in Parkinson’s Disease. In addition, powerful movements enhance accuracy and promote movement initiation.
Meaningful - research has shown that practising tasks that are rewarding to the individual can activate the circuitry within the part of the brain affected by Parkinson’s Disease. For example, if someone loved to play golf but can’t grip the club as well as they used to, practising this and showing improvements can have a positive effect on the brain’s ability to create new pathways.
In my years of working with People with Parkinson’s Disease, I have seen many times the positive effect exercise can have, not only physically but also mentally. I have also witnessed the benefits of peer support and exercising in a group with people in similar circumstances.
The sooner you start the better. Exercise works!
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ARE YOU NEWLY DIAGNOSED WITH AND/ OR HAVE MILD SYMPTOMS OF PARKINSON'S DISEASE?
AIMI SPECIALISES IN NEUROLOGICAL CONDITIONS INCLUDING:PARKINSON'S DISEASE AND STROKE // FALLS // VESTIBULAR (DIZZINESS) // OLDER ADULTS // ORTHOPAEDICS.
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