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Neurological Disorders

Five Important Things to Know About Parkinson’s Disease and Exercise

1. Exercise is helpful for managing symptoms in people with PD

  • Cardiovascular fitness is associated with better cognitive and motor scores in PD
  • Non-motor features of PD, such as constipation, fatigue, and depression, all improve with exercise and fitness
  • Longevity in PD is associated with increased physical activity
  • General fitness is helpful for overcoming other age-related problems that can complicate PD, such as lower back pain and arthritis

2. In the brains of people with PD, there is loss of neurons, or nerve cells, that communicate using the chemical dopamine. This damage may be improved by exercise in a number of ways by increasing the following:

  • Nerve growth factors that help nerves live longer
  • Dopamine receptors that allow for better communication between the remaining dopamine-utilizing neurons
  • Blood flow to the brain that enhances general brain health
  • Neuroplasticity, or the ability for neurons to make new connections with other neurons, that enables communication between neurons even in the face of neuron loss

3. There are four core elements of exercise that are all important to combat the key motor features of PD.

  • 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (when heart rate and breathing rate increase) per week is recommended by the Center for Disease Control for all adults
  • Strengthening exercises, such as using weights help to improve muscle function and reduce the PD symptom of bradykinesia or slowness
  • Balance exercises, such as Tai chi can help reduce fall risk in people with PD
  • Stretching exercises, such as yoga help to reduce PD symptoms of rigidity or stiffness

4. Other types of exercise are also useful to consider for PD.

  • Even less-vigorous activity has been shown to improve fall risk, balance, and mobility in PD
  • Engaging in a novel activity that requires acquiring a new motor skill, like learning tango or boxing, may be particularly helpful in PD, as this engages parts of the brain that plan motor activity so you’re working the thinking part of your brain and your body at the same time
  • Cycling at forced rates of about 30percent faster than you would normally go (around 80 revolutions per minute) can be beneficial for symptoms of PD

5. There are important steps to take before starting a PD exercise program.

  • Prior to starting any activity, discuss all exercise plans with your doctor to ensure safety and appropriateness for your particular situation
  • Even if you only have mild symptoms, ask your doctor for a prescription to see a physical therapist, preferably one with expertise in PD, who can design an exercise regimen for you that takes into account your strengths and weaknesses
  • Consider exercising with a friend so you can motivate each other and enjoy the social aspect of exercising with others
  • Most important of all, choose an exercise program that you will enjoy, since that will be the one that you continue to do
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