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Parkinson’s Disease

This year I participated in my first City to Surf to raise money for Parkinson’s Disease (PD). A lot of people ask me why I chose to focus on raising funds for this disease as I did not know anyone personally who was affected. So I explain to them how I grew up in awe of Michael J Fox. Michael, this crazy, exciting actor from the Back to the Future trilogy, (maybe if you’re a little more old school and have seen Family Ties) like so many other people with Parkinson’s disease, have had to adjust to a new lifestyle since discovering their diagnosis. The work he does for this disease, as well as my exercise background really inspired me to assist in the journey of those individuals with PD.

Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disorder (PD) which affects the dopamine cells within the central nervous system. A deficiency in this chemical messenger within the brain, leads to a disorder which is usually identified with movement symptoms. Unfortunately it can be a poorly understood disease as majority of the population understands it to just be the ‘shakes’. PD encompasses a range of motor and non-motor symptoms such as bradykinesia (slow movements), resting tremor (shaking, jerky movements), stiffness, depression, anxiety and poor postural control.

Benefits of exercise

We know exercise is probably one of the most beneficial tools for health and it is no different in helping those with PD. As the disease progresses, the individual increasingly loses the ability to move freely which can inhibit the performance of everyday tasks. With activities of daily living slowly being hindered, the chance of being placed in residential aged care increases. The aim for exercise in the PD population is to reduce their risk of falls, prolong and improve functionality and independence, and overall improve quality of life. Research has begun to suggest that certain types of exercise may be neuroprotective, i.e. slowing the progression of the disease. Exercise types that focus on the three areas below have been researched with beneficial results.

  • Aerobic fitness

    • Dance classes
    • Boxing
    • Cycling
    • Correcting gait and walking ability – evidence suggest patients with PD improve gait after treadmill training (Bello, 2013).
  • Strength

    • Due to loss of functionality that increases with disease stage, it can be very vital to perform resistance training in order to maintain muscle mass and muscle strength (Corcos, 2013). Progressive resistance training in combination with other exercise modalities improves strength, decreases postural sway and decreases falls, as well as quality of life.
    • Power training at high velocities
    • Eccentric focus
  • Balance

    • Postural instability can be disabling for those with PD as it can increase the risk of falls. Smania and Colleagues (2010), discovered following a balance intervention, PD participants had improved postural stability, improved perceived levels of confidence while performing daily activities and reduced frequency of falls. Exercises included static or dynamic conditions, e.g. transferring body weight onto the tips of their toes, bouncing a ball during walking with hands alternating

Including a regular exercise routine within your week is essential in alleviating symptoms, as well as decreasing the risk of developing other lifestyle diseases, e.g. heart disease, diabetes, obesity. Exercise may not be a cure for PD, however in combination with medications and therapies it is a vital tool to assist in making the quality of life of an individual better.

Editors Note: This article was previously credited to Alana Petrov, Exercise Physiologist at Optimum Health Solutions. We wish to correct our administrative error and correctly credit this article to Ellie Goodwin, Exercise Physiologist Student at Sydney University.

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