Parkinson’s disease is a condition in which parts of the brain become progressively damaged over many years. This disrupts nerve cells in the brain that govern movement. As a result, people with Parkinson’s commonly experience involuntary shaking, slow movement and stiff muscles. It is well understood that exercise can help to slow down the onset of more severe symptoms – in an editorial published online in JAMA Neurology, Dr. Ahlskog makes the case for aerobic exercises.
“Aerobic exercise means vigorous exercise, which makes you hot, sweaty and tired,” said J. Eric Ahlskog, Ph.D., M.D., a neurologist at Mayo Clinic.
This could include activity such as walking briskly or using an elliptical machine.
That doesn’t mean stretching or balance exercises are not helpful, Dr. Ahlskog noted.
Those types of exercises help with Parkinson’s symptoms, such as rigid muscles, slowed movement or impaired posture and balance.
But to help fight the progression of Parkinson’s disease, including dementia – one of the most feared long-term outcomes of the disease – Dr. Ahlskog points to scientific studies that show aerobic exercise enhances factors that potentially have a protective effect on the brain.
For instance, aerobic exercise liberates trophic factors – small proteins in the brain that behave like fertiliser does when applied to a person’s lawn, he said.
Exercise helps maintain brain connections and counters brain shrinkage from Parkinson’s disease as well as from brain aging, said Dr. Ahlskog, author of “The New Parkinson’s Disease Treatment Book,” which further explores the benefits of aerobic exercise.
Dr. Ahlskog makes the case that modern physical therapy practices should incorporate aerobic exercise training and encourage fitness for patients with Parkinson’s disease.
Although it is particular challenge for people with Parkinson’s disease to begin and maintain aerobic exercise, a physical therapist can help, Dr. Ahlskog said: “That is where a physical therapist might serve a crucial role in helping to counter Parkinson’s disease progression.
“The physical therapist could identify the type of exercise that would appeal to the individual, initiate that plan and serve as exercise coach.”
In addition to slowing down progression, some symptoms, such as balance and constipation, are particularly helped by exercise, says the Michael J. fox Foundation.
It also combats isolation, said the health body: “Parkinson’s can be isolating. Many people exercise with a group or with friends and family, making exercise a social activity, as well.”
It added: “Staying active in your community lowers stress and helps ease symptoms.
If a person’s Parkinson’s disease has progressed, Parkinson’s UK recommends focusing on exercise that takes effort and pushes people.
This could be a fast-paced 20 minute walk, said the charity.
It added: “Also, target your symptoms. Yoga, tai chi, Pilates or Parkinson’s exercise classes will help with strength, balance, movement and flexibility.