Exercise can help people with Parkinson’s disease

December 29, 2016 Providence Health Team

An extensive review of medical literature has shown that people with Parkinson’s disease experience some clear benefits from getting exercise.

But the positive effect of exercise is more pronounced in some categories, such as limb strength, endurance and flexibility, and less so in others, such as relief from tremors and overall improvement in the patient’s quality of life. The researchers, from Montreal and Boston, say further investigations into the relationship between physical activity and Parkinson’s are needed.

In general, the reviewers said, it’s clear that people with Parkinson’s are better off in some ways when they get exercise.

"Exercise should be a life-long commitment to avoid physical and cognitive decline, and our research shows that this is also true for individuals with (Parkinson’s disease)," explained Christian Duval, one of the authors and a professor at the University of Quebec.

The results emerged from a review of 106 studies conducted over the last 30 years. Researchers measured the outcomes in four categories: physical capacities; physical and cognitive functional capacities; clinical symptoms of Parkinson’s; and psychosocial aspects. They found the strongest benefits from exercise in the categories of physical capacities and physical and cognitive functional capacities.

About Parkinson’s disease

Parkinson’s gradually erodes a person’s motor control and ability to reason and remember. It is second only to Alzheimer’s disease as a cause of progressive brain degeneration, according to Providence’s Richard Rosenbaum, M.D., author of “Understanding Parkinson’s Disease: A Personal and Professional View.”

The progression of the disease is slow and many people live with it for years. The disease isn’t considered fatal, but it causes complications that can be. Clinicians say the disease advances in five stages.

  • Stage One: Mild symptoms, including tremors on one side of the body
  • Stage Two: Worsening symptoms, including tremors, rigidity and walking problems
  • Stage Three: Loss of balance and slower movements, with increased risk of falls
  • Stage Four: Severe symptoms that prevent a person from living independently
  • Stage Five: Debilitating symptoms, up to becoming unable to stand or walk

In the early stages, a person can live independently, but over time will need assistance carrying out daily activities such as dressing and eating. Stage Five patients need around-the-clock nursing care.

So far, there is no cure for Parkinson’s.

If you have Parkinson’s, talk to your health care provider about exercises you can do to help your condition. Providence has exercise programs, both physical and mental, intended for those with Parkinson’s.

You can find a Providence provider here.

To learn more

The National Parkinson Foundation is a good resource for anyone seeking to understand the disease, from its progression to contributing factors.

The review of previous studies related to Parkinson’s disease and exercise, titled “The Effects of Physical Activity in Parkinson’s Disease: A Review,” was published in the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease. A reader-friendly story about the review is available at Science Daily.

Researchers have been busy exploring the mechanisms that cause the symptoms of Parkinson’s. We’ve written recently about some of their findings:

Study finds link between Parkinson’s disease and gut bacteria, suggesting new therapies »
Study may show new path for Parkinson’s treatments »
Best practices in Parkinson’s disease care »

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