Exercise as essential therapy for Parkinson’s disease

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Despite the lack of medications that can cure or slow down Parkinson’s disease, researchers have identified a potent alternative treatment: physical exercise.

This insight comes from a thorough review conducted by scientists from Aarhus University, published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry.

The study advocates for a significant shift in treating early-stage Parkinson’s disease, recommending exercise as a primary form of therapy alongside traditional medical treatments.

Martin Langeskov Christensen, an associate professor at Aarhus University and a contributor to the research, emphasized the dual role of exercise not only in managing symptoms but also potentially in preventing the disease’s progression.

His team analyzed numerous studies connecting exercise with Parkinson’s, concluding that regular physical activity could substantially enhance life quality for patients and might even delay the progression of the disease.

Exercise has long been a key component of rehabilitation for Parkinson’s patients. However, the recent findings suggest that its benefits are even more substantial, potentially transforming clinical practices.

Christensen highlighted the preventive power of exercise, noting that engaging in moderate to high-intensity physical activities could reduce the risk of developing Parkinson’s by up to 25%.

The research specifically points to the effectiveness of exercise in addressing symptoms that often elude pharmacological treatment. For instance, difficulties with walking, a common challenge for those with Parkinson’s, can be greatly alleviated through targeted physical activities.

Christensen suggests a tailored exercise program that addresses individual symptoms, such as strength training for those struggling to get up from a chair, or cardiovascular exercises for those at risk of high blood pressure.

The goal, according to Christensen, is for patients to receive personalized exercise programs that are regularly adjusted and monitored by a team of healthcare professionals, including physiotherapists and neurologists.

This approach not only improves the management of the disease but may also reduce the overall reliance on medications.

While the idea that exercise could modify the disease course remains less certain, the hypothesis is supported by animal studies and preliminary human data suggesting that increased activity levels might stabilize or even reduce the need for medication.

Improvements have also been noted in clinical assessments used to track the progression of Parkinson’s, offering a hopeful outlook for this non-pharmacological intervention.

Choosing the right type of exercise is also crucial. Christensen advises that individuals with Parkinson’s engage in activities they enjoy, whether it be weight training, cardio exercises, or simpler activities like gardening or walking.

Enjoyment is key, especially as Parkinson’s can diminish motivation due to reduced dopamine levels.

He also addresses the challenge of fatigue, common among those with neurological conditions. Initially, increasing exercise can exacerbate feelings of tiredness, but over time, physical activity is likely to help alleviate fatigue.

This aligns with findings from multiple sclerosis research and upcoming studies on Parkinson’s, reinforcing the broader benefits of exercise.

In essence, the message from the Aarhus University study is clear: while exercise isn’t a cure for Parkinson’s, it offers significant benefits that outweigh any potential drawbacks.

It’s a safe, inexpensive, and accessible treatment that not only helps manage Parkinson’s disease but also reduces the risk of other health issues like high blood pressure, diabetes, and osteoporosis.

Encouraging regular physical activity from the time of diagnosis could profoundly impact the health and well-being of individuals with Parkinson’s.

If you care about Parkinson’s disease, please read studies that Vitamin B may slow down cognitive decline, and Mediterranean diet could help lower risk of Parkinson’s.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies that blueberry supplements may prevent cognitive decline, and results showing Plant-based diets could protect cognitive health from air pollution.

The research findings can be found in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry.

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