Can a brisk walk, exercise class or a spin on the dance floor help people with Parkinson’s disease improve a shuffling walk, tremors or stiffness? Based on more and more research, yes.
Parkinson’s kills the cells that produce dopamine, a chemical that sends messages to the part of the brain that controls movement and coordination. As dopamine levels drop, symptoms like movement problems, tremors and balance issues develop.
Andrea Malone, DO, an OhioHealth neurologist who specializes in movement disorders like Parkinson’s, is one of the physician leaders who’s seen how exercise can help people with Parkinson’s improve their symptoms and quality of life. “Exercise increases dopamine levels,” explains Dr. Malone. The result? It empowers people to take back control of their bodies.
Research shows when Parkinson’s patients get moving with aerobic exercise, combined with balance and resistance training, they can improve quality of life. A study Dr. Malone directed showed that exercise also helped improve depression, a problem that most affects the overall health of people with Parkinson’s.
Help to Delay the Disease
One way people with Parkinson’s can get moving is with OhioHealth Delay the Disease, a fitness program that includes exercise routines that focus on improving specific disease-related challenges. The program is available through one-on-one exercise sessions, free and fee-based group classes and books and DVDs for people of all fitness levels and stages of Parkinson’s.
David Zid, director for Movement Disorders and Musculoskeletal Wellness at OhioHealth Delay the Disease™ and Jackie Russell, RN, created the program in 2005 and since then, it’s grown to offer more than 400 classes throughout Central Ohio, the United States and worldwide.
“We’ve seen people who’ve slowed the progression down, stopped it or even reversed it, turning the clock back for some people,” says Zid.
Is exercise right for everyone with Parkinson’s? Dr. Malone says it’s important to find out by talking with your doctor before jumping in to any program or activity. She recommends exercise for all patients if there’s no medical reason not to.
“We suggest aerobic exercise three times a week or more for 30 minutes a session, along with balance and resistance training,” says Dr. Malone.
“If someone doesn’t have access to the Delay the Disease program or can’t do a specific exercise we recommend, then any exercise you enjoy and will stick with is better than no exercise.”
That can include a long list of options, such as Silver Sneakers exercise programs at local gyms and YMCAs, Tai Chi, cycling, yoga or ballroom dancing.
“Walking counts, too,” says Dr. Malone. “Walking is considered weight-bearing exercise. Some of our patients get moving at a local mall or outside in nice weather at a local park.”
Dr. Malone says there’s hope continued research will confirm that exercise may reduce the risk of falls and ideally slow down the progression of Parkinson’s disease. Until researchers can prove that, there are enough benefits to make exercise as routine as taking medication. “Our patients feel better when they exercise, and they have decreased depression and improved quality of life.”
Learn more about OhioHealth Delay the Disease and find a class near you.