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Exercising with Parkinson’s Disease

“Today, we understand Parkinson’s Disease to be a disorder of the central nervous system that results from the loss of cells in various parts of the brain, including a region called the substantia nigra. The substantia nigra cells produce dopamine, a chemical messenger responsible for transmitting signals within the brain that allow for coordination of movement. Loss of dopamine causes neurons to fire without normal control, leaving patients less able to direct or control their movement. Parkinson’s disease is one of several diseases categorized by clinicians as movement disorders.” (www.michaeljfox.org)

Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that effects the brain’s production of the neurotransmitter dopamine and the area of the brain known as the substantia nigra. Signs and symptoms of PD can range from tremors, gait and balance issues, difficulty with fine motor skills and increased stiffness. These signs and symptoms can differ dramatically from individual to individual, but usually affect movement in one shape or form. Being diagnosed with PD can be life changing, however, it should not change the way you live your life. Maintaining a high quality of life with Parkinson’s Disease begins with learning about the disease itself and what may help to keep symptoms and progression at bay.

Research has shown that staying active is important for those living with PD. Exercise can mean something different to every individual with PD, however research shows that movement of any form is beneficial no matter how progressed the disease is. According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, research has shown that 150 minutes of exercise each week can slow the decline in mobility and overall quality of life in those with PD. While research is still on going to determine the most effective exercise regimen for PD, some research indicates that duration is more important than intensity. For example, an individual who walks on a treadmill at a normal and comfortable pace for 50 minutes, three times per week, has been shown to see more results than an individual who walks at a faster and less natural speed on a treadmill for 30 minutes, three times per week.

When thinking about exercising with PD, first consult with your doctor. Then, think of ways to exercise that (1) you will enjoy and (2) will challenge both your mind and your body. It is important with this disease to exercise physically and cognitively, focusing on strength, balance, coordination and mobility. While there are multiple forms of exercise (boxing, dancing, walking, etc.) that have been shown to improve PD, any kind of exercise is better than none! It may also be beneficial to find a partner to workout with, whether that is begins with being referred to a physical therapist or exercising with a family member, spouse, friend or a certified personal trainer. The key here is consistency.

If you are unsure about starting an exercise program even after consulting with your doctor, start with something that you feel comfortable and safe doing. Walking and aquatic exercise are two great forms of exercise to kickstart your routine. Another great form of exercise that would be beneficial to PD patients is yoga. Finding a local chair-yoga class would be a great place to start. Chair yoga does not require you to get down onto the floor and provides a prop to assist you while working on balance and flexibility. However you choose to exercise, start small, and slowly progress your routine as tolerated. No matter where you are in your journey with Parkinson’s Disease, talk to your doctor and get moving!

For more information on Parkinson’s Disease and exercise, consult with your doctor or visit the Michael J. Fox Foundation or Parkinson’s Foundation websites.

Audrey Taylor, EP-C, BS, is an exercise specialist and certified Parkinson’s Disease trainer at Vidant Wellness Center. She can be reached at 252-975-4236.