December 31, 2016

Exercise: The Best Medicine for Parkinson's Disease?

Almost any exercise is good medicine for someone with Parkinson's disease, a new study confirms.

Although physical activity may seem impossible for some people with Parkinson's, the new research reaffirms what many specialists already believe -- that exercise can have a long-term impact, improving gait and reducing risk of falls, in particular.

The review measured the combined outcomes of more than 100 studies conducted over the past 30 years on the effects of exercise on Parkinson's patients. It showed that physical activity has clear benefits, specifically for strength, mobility, flexibility and balance.

The new review's author, Martine Lauze is a kinesiologist (body movement expert) who works with Parkinson's patients privately and is a researcher at the University of Québec at Montréal.

Lauze thinks the key to working with Parkinson's patients is taking a progressive approach. Perhaps people can simply start walking around the house until they're ready to walk outside. She says it's important to find the right activity for each individual, though that activity may not be perfect forever.
Specialists agree that patients should strive for relatively vigorous activity. The idea is to break a sweat without overdoing it.

Lauze agrees. "Moderate intensity, that's what we're talking about. It's good to be warm."

She acknowledges that different people are capable of different levels of intensity. But the important thing is to keep moving.

My Take on This Issue
Reporting on this study is a perfect subject for my last blog post of 2016. If I were to list the most positive developments in dealing with my Parkinson's this year, near the top of that list would be my new approach to exercise.

My old approach was to find free time during the day for exercise. I would try to spend 30-60 minutes doing exercise routines that I had learned from my exercise DVDs, my physical therapist, or other sources.

In the last few months, I've developed a different approach. What's important for me at this stage in my life, I've decided, is to try to keep moving throughout the day.

I have a few favorite exercises that are supposed to be repeated five or ten times. I don't follow those instructions. Instead, I'll simply do the exercise just about every time I'm standing by my desk, or at the sink in the kitchen or bathroom.

When I do these exercises, I'll add a few of my favorite formal exercises. But I spend most of my time doing free-form movements.

When I'm sitting at the desk, as I am now, I'll keep moving much of the time -- doing shoulder rotations, standing and swaying while watching a video clip, or just moving my body in random ways.

At age 87, I don't try to do these exercises with an intensity that causes me to break a sweat. In my early years with Parkinson's, I was an advocate of the BIG exercise program that required big intensity. That was a good for then, but not for now.

Different strokes for different folks. What's important is to just keep moving.

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As the year 2016 comes to an end, I join Dame Helen Mirren in this reflection on the year past.

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