Parkinson’s disease is a progressive, degenerative disease of the nervous system which primarily affects motor function. Its victims have uncontrollable tremors, rigid joints and slowed movements. It was previously considered highly unlikely that a Parkinson’s patient could maintain an exercise regimen.
Thanks to the development of neuro-modulating medications, many people now suffering from Parkinson’s disease remain active. Exercise directly impacts Parkinson’s disease through prevention and better outcomes for those suffering from Parkinson’s disease.
Researchers from Harvard University presented data at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology. The studies showed that people who exercise moderately to vigorously for 30 minutes each day are less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease.
After being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, patients who exercise regularly have a higher level of physical function and quality of life. An exercise program should be customized for each patient. The structure of the program requires the input of physical and occupational therapists as well as the patient’s physicians.
The goals of any exercise regimen include:
• Increased cardiopulmonary stamina
• Greater joint range of motion
• Better muscle strength
• Preservation of walking ability
• Improved posture and balance
Since Parkinson’s disease primarily affects motor function, maintaining posture, balance, and coordination are crucial. Many Parkinson’s patients die from the effects of falls, including broken bones or pneumonia which results from immobility.
Dr. Anna Hohler is a movement disorder specialist who treats many Parkinson’s patients at Boston University Medical Center.
“Exercise is vital to optimization of care; medication alone is not enough,” Hohler said.
She obtains a formal gait assessment performed by an occupational therapist for all her patients. Her institution offers a yoga program specifically designed for patients with Parkinson’s disease. Tai chi is also very effective in improving balance and flexibility.
Parkinson’s is now among a growing number of diseases that can be improved with regular exercise both before and after diagnosis.