It’s in the news every day and anyone who has had a physical recently has been told by a health professional that regular exercise has dozens of benefits. It can keep weight gain under control, improve mood and even decrease the risk of some forms of dementia. Recent research shows another benefit. A review of over one hundred studies on Parkinson’s disease (PD) shows that for those patients living with this condition being physically active can improve balance and gait.
Anything that can keep a person suffering from PD from having a bad fall is definitely a plus, but it’s not always easy for someone with Parkinson’s to find an exercise program that works for them. Many health professionals don’t advise their patients with PD to start exercising because they fear patients could fall or get injured. The tremors and muscle stiffness that accompany the disease can also make exercise challenging.
Christian Duval, PhD, Professor, Département des sciences de l’activité physique, Université du Québec á Montréal, Montréal, Québec, Canada was a lead author on the review which was published in the Journal Parkinson’s Disease, explained, "Exercise should be a life-long commitment to avoid physical and cognitive decline, and our research shows that this is also true for individuals with PD.” Duval stressed that the numbers of patients who develop the disease is likely to increase, as are the numbers of those living with it, because while there is no cure, there are treatments that are resulting in longer life spans. With these numbers going up, something as basic as physical activity should be attempted as part of a comprehensive plan to reduce fall risk, reduce tremors and improve muscle stiffness.
Duval and his team analyzed 106 different studies that had been conducted over the past 30 years and together had resulted in 868 different outcome measures. That’s a lot of big data, but by grouping it into four categories (Physical capacities, physical and cognitive functional capacities, clinical symptoms and psychosocial quality of life issues) they were able to look at the impact physical activity could have on the disease.
They found that exercise was most beneficial in the areas of physical capacity (which included limb strength, flexibility and range of motion) and physical and cognitive functional capacity. More than half of the studies analyzed showed that physical activity produced positive benefits in these two areas. The impact of exercise was not as high in the other two categories, however the authors felt this was because not many studies had addressed the issue of physical activity and more research was definitely needed. Study co-author Jean-Francois Daneault, a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University agreed, stating, “’In addition, to confirm the positive role of physical activity for patients with PD, this study has identified areas in which more research is needed. As such it will serve as a guide for future investigations.”
Suggestions for exercise that some patients might find helpful were using a recumbent bicycle, lifting small hand weights while seated or even just having a caregiver assist them in taking regular walks around the house. The team stressed that any kind of increased activity can help and that it’s never too late to start. Check out the video below to learn more.