Exercise – Is it Useful in Parkinson’s Disease?

Exercise provides tremendous health benefits for individuals of all ages. For people with Parkinson’s disease, exercise is like a medicine and researchers think it should be used as an adjunct therapy with medication.  Let’s learn here how exercise causes its beneficial effects and what type of exercise is best for Parkinson’s patients.

exercises in Parkinson's disease

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurological condition that has affected over 10 million people around the world. The typical symptoms include tremor, rigidity, slowness of movement, and balance problems. These symptoms develop when the brain has lost a specialized group of cells that are involved in controlled body movement.

Researchers have been studying the importance of exercise in PD for many years. They think that alongside the use of medication, physical exercise could help to cope with complications associated with this disease. Exercise causes positive changes in the brain of a patient, and this is why it is often considered adjunct therapy in PD.

How does Exercise Improve PD Symptoms?

Recently published studies provided evidence that physical exercise could increase the levels of certain chemicals crucial for the survival of brain cells that are known to be lost in PD. One such chemical is the brain-derived neurotrophic factor, shorty called BDNF.

Based on the results collected from a number of independent studies, a recent review report shows that BDNF improves the brain’s ability to perform motor functions. This report was published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 

BDNF is a naturally occurring compound in the brain.  It plays a key role in the development of the nervous system in many ways, and because of that, it has been extensively studied in the context of brain diseases. While the brain is the prime producer of BDNF, its release has also been observed in other parts like blood and muscle cells.

Parkinson’s patients are reported to have lower levels of BDNF in their brains. Researchers have tried to deliver BDNF into the brains of patients. However, this direct approach didn’t improve the disease symptoms. It’s evident from animal studies that its level could naturally be increased by performing physical exercise.

Another chemical that has been shown to increase by exercise is dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter responsible for controlled body movement. Researchers believed that it is the deficiency of dopamine in the brain that causes PD symptoms.

Animal studies provide evidence that physical exercise has a profound effect on the release of dopamine in the brain areas linked to PD. Using mouse brains that were carrying changes like PD, researchers have shown that daily exercise improves motor functions of the brain by increasing dopamine levels. While they still don’t know the exact mechanism, laboratory experiments suggested that exercise influences dopamine neurotransmission via activating a larger number of dopamine receptors

Besides the increased levels of chemicals, researchers have also found that exercise decreases the oxidative stress condition in the brain.

What’s this oxidative stress? It’s basically the disturbance in the balance between the production of free radicals and the body’s ability to detoxify them or repair the damage caused by these radicals. Free radicals are oxygen-containing molecules that are produced as a part of normal physiological processes in the body. When these radicals are produced at a level where the antioxidant system of the body is unable to cope with, the result is the state of oxidative stress. This causes damage to vital components of brain cells like DNA, proteins, and lipids. Since Parkinson’s patients have generally lower levels of antioxidants in their brains, they are more sensitive to the damage of oxidative stress.

A study published in the Journal of ”Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise” found that those Parkinson’s patients who performed physical exercise have a decreased levels of oxidative stress compare to those who don’t. The study involved 16 Parkinson’s patients, half of which were subjected to physical exercise and the other half were not. Those in the exercise group underwent resistance training 2 times per week for a total of 8 weeks under the supervision of a professional trainer. Blood samples were collected before and after the training and used for measuring oxidative stress. After analyzing the blood samples and comparing them with the non-exercise group, researchers found a decreased level of oxidative stress in the exercise group. The researchers of the study concluded that resistance training may be associated with reduced oxidative stress in people with PD. Similar kinds of results were also shown by a number of other studies.

What Kind of Exercise is Best for Parkinson’s Patients?

There are many different types of exercise that Parkinson’s patients could perform to improve their motor problems and overall quality of life. Some of these they can do independently, others involve group training that is performed under the supervision of professional trainers.

Here’re the 4 main exercises that Parkinson’s patients should consider.

1. Aerobic Exercise 

This includes walking, jogging, stretching, cycling, and swimming. Since these exercises are easy to perform and require no special tools, Parkinson’s patients should do these on a regular basis. Performing these will help to improve motor symptoms, walking speed, balance, and strength. 

2. Resistance Training

This includes a mix-up of upper and lower body workouts that can be performed using weight machines, free weights, or your own body weight. Researchers think that performing a high‐force eccentric resistance training for 45 minutes 3 days/week is good for gaining strength and improves the mobility of a patient. A patient should perform resistance training exercises with the help of a professional trainer.

3. Yoga

Yoga provides several benefits, and this is why it is increasingly gaining popularity among Parkinson’s patients. It helps to improve balance and increase functional mobility, gait, and strength.  It also relieves depression and improves sleep at night.

4. Tai Chi

Tai Chi is a form of martial arts that involves slow controlled movement and the formation of various postures. Several studies have reported the benefits of performing Tai Chi in Parkinson’s disease. It particularly helps to improve the flexibility, balance, and strength of a patient. 

The Key Takeway

There is no doubt that exercise is very effective for the physical and mental well being of Parkinson’s patients. For that reason, it becomes an important part of treatment in PD. The above-mentioned 4 types of physical exercises are commonly recommended and can be very useful for Parkinson’s patients. However, we strongly recommend you to talk with your healthcare provider to figure it out which on of them could work best for you.

Disclaimer: The information shared here should not be taken as medical advice. The opinions presented here are not intended to treat any health conditions. For your specific medical problem, consult with your health care provider. 

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