Exercise may help with Parkinson’s symptoms

Parkinson’s Disease is among the most common movement disorders. It affects approximately 10 million people worldwide. Although there are many new pharmacologic therapies available, it appears that regular exercise may be among the most effective.

Movement disorders are a general category of illnesses that consist of involuntary movements that range from a mild tremor to violent spasms.

Parkinson’s disease is a constellation of symptoms and physical findings. The hallmark on examination is a combination of a tremor at rest, slowed movements, rigidity and postural instability.

The pathology is based on decreased production of dopamine, a neurochemical produced in the brain that regulates movement.

Patients will often present with complaints of falling and noticeable changes in handwriting. Sudden falls often lead to broken bones and lengthy hospitalizations.

Medical treatment has been available for approximately 50 years in the form of medication that can increase the declining levels of dopamine. There are now medications that can slow the metabolism of dopamine that has been produced.

“Regular physical activity has been associated with neuroprotection and has shown to improve gait and balance in Parkinson's disease,” reports Dr. Bernardo Rodrigues, a neurologist specializing in movement disorders at the University of Connecticut.

Programs that promote active motion such as “Big and Loud” physical therapy and aerobic exercise for 30 minutes three or more days per week are the key to the effectiveness of the neuroprotective factors produced in the brain.

Recent research has shown that patients with Parkinson’s disease who participate in Latin dancing programs have better outcomes regarding mobility when compared to those who did not participate. This may be related to the physical as well as mental demands of this activity.

Exercise can be a crucial element of a rehabilitation program for Parkinson’s disease.

Dr. Alessi is a neurologist in Norwich and serves as an on-air contributor for ESPN. He is director of UConn NeuroSport and can be reached at agalessi@uchc.edu