July 8, 2016

Prelude to the Dancing Queen: Exercise for Parkinson’s Disease

Last month, I wrote about a member of my Parkinson's support group – someone we haven’t seen for several months – who showed up again… this time in a wheelchair pushed by his wife. He couldn’t use his arms or legs, and he didn’t seem to know where he was.

We were stunned, seeing for the first time someone with Parkinson’s disease (PD) so completely disabled. We spent most of the meeting sharing our feelings, and thinking "that could be me."

I’d already been worrying that my PD – which has progressed pretty slowly so far -- might be on the verge of accelerating. I was “officially” diagnosed seven years ago, but I’m sure that diagnosis was several years late.

I know that PD is highly idiosyncratic; people experience symptoms and respond to medications in very different ways. But from what I've seen and read about others with Parkinson's, the downhill slide often speeds up as one approaches the ten-year mark.

Then a surprise attack of shingles this spring added to my health concerns.

So I decided to intensify my efforts to fight my PD. But how?

Second only to carbidopa levodopa, exercise is the best medicine for combating PD. For some, like John Pepper exercise may work so well that they no longer need to take the medication.

But what kind of exercise? Each of us must produce our own answer. For me, exercise classes have never worked. I much prefer exercises that I can do at home. I just can’t seem to follow someone else's program.

Frank Sinatra spoke for me when he sang:
And now, the end is near,
And so I face the final curtain.
My friend, I'll say it clear,
I'll state my case, of which I'm certain.
I've lived a life that's full
I traveled each and every highway.
And more, much more than this, I did it my way.
To find “my way,” I’ve considered what’s worked for others, and I’ve researched recommendations from health professionals.

Here are some guidelines -- from the Parkinson's Disease Clinic and Research Center at the University of California in San Francisco – that I found helpful:
What types of exercise are best for people with Parkinson’s disease?​ 
Facilitating exercise programs that challenge our heart and lungs as well as promote good biomechanics, good posture, trunk rotation and normal rhythmic, symmetric movements are the best. Dancing to music may be particularly good for decreasing stiffness
Although research on this subject is ongoing, it does appear that beyond aerobic activities performed with healthy movement patterns, exercises challenging the individual to change tempo, activity, or direction (what is referred to as “random practice” exercise) benefits people with Parkinson’s disease. It is also important to keep variety in exercise activities, because individuals with Parkinson’s disease often have difficulty in shifting from one activity to another or in performing two activities at the same time. Exercises that require balance and preparatory adjustment of the body are also important along with rhythmic activities such as dancing, skipping and cycling can maintain the ability to perform reciprocal movements. Finally, exercises that promote attention and learning are beneficial.
Types of exercises that do this:
  • Walking outside or in a mall
  • Dancing
  • Yoga classes
  • Tai Chi classes
  • Stepping over obstacles
  • Marching to music with big arm swings
  • Sports (ping pong, golf, tennis, volleyball)
  • Aerobic/Jazzercise classes
I underlined certain phrases above because they support my use of music to get me up and moving… which I'll display (with much trepidation) in a video of me as "the dancing queen" in the next post.

You've been warned.

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