October 16, 2013

World Parkinson Conference: Exercise, Exercise, and More Exercise!

If there was a one major theme I heard repeatedly at the World Parkinson Conference in Montreal earlier this month, it was the importance of exercise. Sessions devoted to the topic drew great interest -- and participation -- from attendees.

My notes include remarks like these:
  • Your exercises are as important as your pills.
  • Exercise and drink black coffee.
  • Sitting in front of the TV sucks the life blood out of you.
Living Well With Parkinson’s

I attended the Congress's media briefing, “Living Well with Parkinson’s." It featured five experts, each of whom got just five minutes to summarize their bullet points before taking a few questions. The briefing was chock-full-of-info,and perfectly suited my ADD limitations. Organizers surely selected the five topics that they felt held greatest interest:
  1. Genetics -- What’s New?
  2. New Treatments – Optogenetics
  3. Treatment of Cognitive Dysfunction
  4. Quality of Life
  5. Lifestyle: Exercise, Diet, Dance
Two of them -- #4 and #5 -- dealt primarily with exercise. During my years as editor / reporter at Washington's Bureau of National Affairs, I think I developed very good note-taking skills. But my recent PD-related micrographia (small, cramped handwriting) left me with only a few barely legible notes from this fine briefing.

Luckily, I found an excellent paper -- The Role of Exercise in the Management of Parkinson’s Disease -- presented a year ago by Terry Ellis, Director of the Center for Neurorehabilitation at Boston University (Terry also presented topic #5 above). Several highlights:
  • Current studies show that exercise may be more powerful than medication, slowing the progress of disability, improving independence, optimizing the quality of life.
  • Unlike drugs, exercise does not produce side effects or require FDA approval.
  • Exercise can bring quick, significant improvement.
  • Brisk walking (100+ steps per minute) is especially beneficial.
  • All exercise is good. Find something you like, and stick with it.
  • Exercise should increase your pulse and leave you winded. For best effect, it should last more than ten minutes and make it hard for you to talk.
  • PWPs shouldn't sit longer than one hour at a time.
  • Stretching increases flexibility and combats PD rigidity. Stretch before, not after, exercising.
  • Do push-ups while leaning on the kitchen counter -- bending, then straightening, elbows.
  • Dancing (especially tango!) improves balance, mobility, and the quality of life.
  • Tai chi and resistance training can reduce risk of falls and improve balance, though tai chi is more appropriate for people in the early stages of PD.
I’m exhausted just listing these strategies. Once a walking / biking maniac, I've fallen off the exercise wagon and need to climb back on. I bumped into my physical therapist in Montreal, and will soon resume the useful sessions with her.

Now -- after a week of clouds and rain -- the sun is shining again, it's cool and pleasant. Time to get out those trekking poles.

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More images of PWPs on the move at the Montreal Congress. Look at the unoccupied wheelchair!

Jane Fonda, eat your heart out!

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