by Martha A. Nance, M.D., medical director, Struthers Parkinson’s Center

Run, run, run!

Did you get the message yet about EXERCISE as an important treatment for Parkinson’s disease? I know everyone just wants a pill that will make their Parkinson’s disease go away, but unfortunately, we don’t have that yet.

What we DO have, what has been shown to help both mice and humans with Parkinson’s disease, is exercise.

Just about every week for the last two to three years, there has been an article in a medical research journal describing the benefits of exercise. Some of the studies have looked at mice. Some have looked at bicycling, some at the effects of Tai Chi. The most recent article I saw showed that people who took levodopa had a more dramatic and sustained improvement in the function of the dominant hand, than in the nondominant hand. The researchers felt that this demonstrated that medication and active use of the limb combine together to produce more benefit. The nondominant hand improved some with medication alone, but the improvement was never as great as in the more active dominant hand.

Along those lines, there is a sense that vigorous exercise may help preserve brain cells better than lighter activities. Doctors do not agree yet on what the term “vigorous exercise” means in a person with Parkinson’s disease, or how often a person needs to exercise in order to get any benefit. Half an hour of exercise four days a week is certainly better than nothing! Give it a try!

If you have no idea where to begin, then start with your doctor, and ask for a referral to a physical therapist. The therapist can work with you to customize a home exercise program that fits your abilities, and is safe. Some people, after that, will join exercise classes or groups at the health club, the senior center, or the Parkinson’s Center.

A little peer pressure sometimes helps you to stick with a program! Others use a personal trainer to help keep them motivated. We do not know for sure that one kind of exercise is better than another for people with PD. I often say to people, however, based on common sense, that bicycling, or an elliptical machine, may be particularly useful. Using these pieces of equipment force a person to use the limbs on both sides in a symmetrical fashion. Often Parkinson’s is worse on one side than the other, so you can use your “good” side on the bicycle or elliptical machine to force the “bad” side to move bigger or faster than it would on its own. And then you keep those pathways in the brain activated.

Summer is a great time to start an exercise program, or to get back on track if you were less active over the winter. Join the growing number of people with Parkinson’s disease who walk, run, swim, pedal, Nordic walk, ski, golf, and bowl. Get out there and do SOMETHING!

Note: The information included on this blog is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Readers should always consult their own health care provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation. Readers should also contact their own providers if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan. Reading the information on this blog does not create a physician-patient relationship.

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