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Exercise is "best medicine" for people with Parkinson's disease

A year after being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, I struggled to lift a gallon of milk from the trunk of my car. Seeing how quickly my muscles (such as they were) had weakened compelled me to search the Internet for a magic pill that could halt or slow my disease progression. No such luck. There are no free rides.

Study after study has concluded that exercise is crucial to helping people with Parkinson's:

  • Live well longer by delaying disability and preserving independence.
  • Maintain and improve mobility, flexibility, balance, and range of motion.
  • Ease the ever-growing list of non-motor symptoms, including everything from depression to constipation

Researchers also tell us that:

  • It is never too late to begin a regular exercise regimen, though the sooner it is begun the better the results.
  • Exercise yields the greatest benefit when performed daily.
  • Exercise should be challenging and targeted to improve functional limitations (e.g. rolling over in bed or getting up out of chair).

Researchers think exercise may slow progression

More and more researchers now believe that exercise may actually help slow the progression of Parkinson's disease, something no other interventions, pharmaceutical or surgical, have been able to do.

In the face of all this evidence, I have had to change my ways and "get moving." I think I even heard myself say, "No pain, no gain," as I urged my body to keep swimming laps until I had reached my half mile mark.

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researchers are finding that exercise is good for people with parkinsons disease and may improve their quality of life

What is it about exercise that makes it so important in treating Parkinson’s? 

When healthy older adults exercise, neurotrophins are released in the brain.(1) Described as “chicken soup for the brain,” they promote the survival of nerve cells and help with neuroplasticity — the ability of the brain to repair or reorganize. Scientific evidence in animal models of PD reveals that intensive exercise produces chemical and structural changes in the brain that restore function lost to Parkinson’s. These same neurotrophins are released in the brains of animals (2)   Ongoing clinical trials indicate this is also the case in PWP.

(1) Brain Science Podcast #33
(2) Exercise and neuroplasticity in persons living with Parkinson’s disease, MA Hiorsch and BG Farley, Eur J Phys Rehabil Med 2009;45:215-29



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