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Parkinsonís Disease and Exercise

Parkinsonís disease (PD) took my lifelong friend Carl Miller. While I was reluctant to believe that heíd been diagnosed with Parkinsonísóhe was hard on his body and had many complaintsóhe was obviously dead serious. I also have another friend who is coping with the disease.

It is clearly time to learn more about PD. Believing that exercise is the best medicine, I also want to explore self-help as a way of managing the disease.

I found that Parkinsonís is a complex diseaseóand that exercise helps on several levels.

As usual, I will do my best to explain what Iíve learned in everyday language. No scientific jargon unless absolutely necessary, with an emphasis on the bottom line.

Parkinsonís Disease Basics

I learned on Wikipedia that Parkinsonís is a multifaceted disease.

PD is a long-term degenerative disorder that begins with movement. The symptoms usually emerge slowly. The most obvious early symptoms are tremor, rigidity, slowness of movement, and difficulty walking.

Cognitive and behavioral problems may also occur, with depression, anxiety, and apathy affecting many PD sufferers.

Those with Parkinson's can also have problems with their sleep and sensory systems such as vision, hearing, touch, taste, smell, and balance.

As if that wasnít enough, dementia becomes common in the advanced stages of PD.

*  *  *

Carl Miller and his wife Sandra went with us to the Stark Center conference on my book Take Charge. I noticed that he was having trouble getting around; he fell down getting out of a chair at one point. I didnít realize what was happening. Now I know.

Going to Austin under these circumstances shows what a wonderful friend he was.

Doesn't seem fair for a man who had devoted much of his life to helping people stay strong. A sterling exampleóa prominent citizen of Santa Feóis a man he introduced to Olympic Weightlifting at a time when most people have long since retired to their rocking chair. The guy was still lifting competitively in his 90s. Few in this age group could match him. Carl was so proud of his performance.

This photo shows Carl A few years before he began having movement and other problems--
at the AOBS 25th Anniversary Dinner chatting with former world record holder and pioneer strength coach, Clyde Emrich.
Weightlifting champions Jim Bradford, Mike Karchut, Tommy Kono, and Ike Berger can be seen in the background.

Photo by Carol Bass

 Benefits of Exercise

The Parkinsonís Foundation has studied exercise as part of a Parkinsonís Outcomes Project study. Started in 2009, the Parkinsonís Outcomes Project is the largest-ever clinical study of Parkinsonís disease with more than 13,000 participants in five countries. https://www.parkinson.org/research/Parkinsons-Outcomes-Project

Iíll review the high points of the study and then link you to the entire report.

As you would expect, exercise helps maintain balance, mobility, and daily living activities. Research has shown that exercise can improve gait, balance, tremor, flexibility, grip strength and motor coordination.

For people with mild to moderate PD, targeted exercise can address specific symptoms. For example: aerobic exercise improves fitness, walking exercises assist in gait, and resistance training improves strength and dexterity.

Less well-known is how exercise affects the brain.

There is a strong consensus among physicians and physical therapists that improved mobility by exercising may improve thinking, memory and reduce risk of falls.

Exercise may also improve cognition, depression and fatigue.

*  *  *

Dopamine enables neurons in your brain to communicate and control movement. In Parkinson's, one type of neuron steadily degenerates. It doesn't have a signal to send anymore, so your body makes less dopamine. The chemical imbalance causes physical symptoms.

Researchers at the University of Southern California looked at the brains of mice that had exercised on a treadmill. Hereís what they found about dopamine function:

Exercise did not affect the amount of dopamine in the brain, but the mice that exercised were using dopamine more efficiently. Exercise improves efficiency by modifying the areas of the brain where dopamine signals are received.

*  * *

Finally, the researchers emphasize that the time to start exercising is ďRight now!Ē Whether or not you have PD.

Hereís why.

In PD, a special kind of neuron (brain cell) that produces the chemical transmitter dopamine gets damaged and lost. However, there is a lag between the time when neuron loss begins and when PD movement symptoms start to show. By the time most people are diagnosed, as much as 40 to 60 percent of their dopamine neurons are already gone. The reason people with PD donít experience symptoms until they reach this point is that the brain can compensate for the loss of dopamine neurons by adapting. In fact, the brain reshapes itself throughout life in response to experience. Scientists call this ability to change and compensate "experience-dependent neuroplasticity."

* *  *

For more details, you can read the entire report online: https://www.parkinson.org/Understanding-Parkinsons/Treatment/Exercise/Neuroprotective-Benefits-of-Exercise

June 1, 2021

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