Role of Exercise in Parkinson’s Disease

Exercise In Parkinson’s Disease

There is increasing evidence that exercise may have a neuroprotective effect, meaning that it can slow the progression of your condition. Researchers think that exercise can delay the onset of Parkinson’s as well as slow progression if introduced early on.

There are also psychological benefits to exercise. It will not take Parkinson’s away, but it can give you a sense of control over it and make you feel better about living with the condition. This, together with a good medication regime, can really enhance quality of life and help you maintain independence. You can tailor your regime to suit your own individual abilities and requirements, whether you want to maintain the strength and fitness you already have or get yourself fitter and healthier. Remember, it’s never too late to start and the benefits can be enormous.

Some of the benefits of regular exercise include:

  • improved balance and fewer falls
  • greater energy and stamina leading to reduced fatigue
  • improved mood and a reduced risk of depression
  • enjoyable social contact
  • fewer muscle and joint injuries
  • preventing/reducing bone wasting (osteoporosis)
  • improved posture and flexibility
  • a better connection between mind and body when moving
  • an increased feeling of control and a sense of accomplishment
  • improved brain function and health
  • preventing/reducing gait, sleep, speech and swallowing problems

Cycling has also been found to be greatly beneficial. Dutch researchers found that testing the ability of a person to ride a bike can determine whether or not they have atypical or standard ‘idiopathic’ Parkinson’s Disease. This was discovered when they noticed that a man with freezing problems was still able to ride his bike, often riding up to 25 km each day, but once he got off the bike his gait difficulties immediately returned. It is thought that the highly coordinated skill needed to ride a bike is sensitive to the subtle problems that Parkinson’s can cause in balance and coordination.

Cycling can help you keep your heart and lungs healthy and the pedalling action can improve the strength of leg muscles and general coordination as well as reduce stiffness. A word of caution though; you should begin with a stationary bike or exercise bike and take it slowly if you have not been regularly exercising. If you have experienced freezing or gait problems since you last tried cycling then check with your doctor before getting on a bike.

Recent research suggests that exercise may be neuroprotective, that is it may help prevent or slow the loss of brain cells (neurodegeneration). The exact mechanism is unclear but many believe that intensive, vigorous aerobic exercise produces protective brain chemicals called neurotrophic factors.

There is increasing evidence supporting the positive effects of exercise on Parkinson’s symptoms. Studies have shown that different sorts of exercise – aerobic, strength, balance, resistance, gait and dance – all have beneficial effects.

Many believe that a regular exercise programme should begin as soon as possible after diagnosis in order to achieve maximum benefits.

References:

  1. Fisher BE. Et al. Treadmill exercise elevates dopamine D2 receptor binding potential in patients with early Parkinson’s disease. Neuroreport. 2013;24:509-514
  2. Cycling for Freezing of Gait – Snijders AH, Bloem B. N Engl J Med 2010 April 01; 362:e46
  3. Bloem B.et al. Nonpharmacological treatments for patients with Parkinson’s disease. Movement Disorders 2015; 30:11:1504-1520