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Parkinson's Disease and the Neuroprotective Effect of Exercise

Hi All!

April is Parkinson’s Disease Awareness Month. If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, you may be left thinking- now what? Here at Maine Strong Balance Center, we are committed to teaching and empowering those with PD to live a healthy and successful life despite the challenges that accompany Parkinson’s Disease.

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disease. For the purpose of this blog, I will be speaking to Idiopathic Parkinson’s Disease. This is the most common type of PD.

NEURO refers to the involvement of the nervous system. In this case, there is a reduction in the production of a brain chemical called dopamine. Dopamine helps control movement.

DEGENERATIVE refers to the gradual progression of PD due to cell death. This means over time the loss of dopamine causes an increase in symptoms, including:

· Slouched posture

· Pain in the neck, back and shoulders

· Difficulty walking

· Balance problems and falls

· Problems performing simple tasks such as moving in bed and getting up from a chair

· Fatigue

What can I do if I have been diagnosed with PD?

Regardless of which stage of PD you are in, physical therapy can assist with reducing the impact of PD on your life in various ways. It is important to begin an exercise program as soon as possible to help deter the limitations associated with PD. Examples of this include:

· Stretching and strengthening to reduce the slouched posture

· Balance retraining, home modifications, and assistance with identifying an assistive device (if needed) to reduce your risk for falls

· Strategies to assist with “freezing” episodes

· How to manage fatigue to get the most out of your day

· Develop a comprehensive exercise program to maintain your function and independence as long as possible

What type of exercise is best?

There are 4 types of exercise that are critical for those affected by PD:

1. Aerobic conditioning: This can help improve fitness, fatigue, mental health and more. It should be performed at a moderate intensity level. An easier way to think of this is you should be a bit out of breath. You should be able to say a sentence, but not a paragraph.

2. Balance exercise: This helps reduce risk for falls and keeps you able to continue doing your most enjoyable activities for as long as possible.

3. Strength training: This helps with bradykinesia, or the slowness involved with PD. It also helps with maintaining strength to help you do activities such as standing up from a chair or getting out of bed.

4. Stretching: This helps with maintaining good posture to allow yourself to make the most out of movements.

How do I start exercising?

Despite PD being one disease, it affects each individual differently, and each individual has their own goals and interests. It is highly recommended to have a physical therapist assist you with development of an exercise program. Physical therapists are experts in movement, and the right physical therapist will be trained to create personalized exercise programs for those with PD in accordance with the most current evidence.

What resources are available for me?

Other than finding a skilled physical therapist to help you progress through the stages of PD, there are many reputable sources of information. Some of the information attained for this blog post were based on these sites:

Spotlight on Parkinson's Disease: Staying Healthy, Keeping Fit | APDA ( This is a link to a webinar about exercise and PD. The APDA is also a great resource for information

Patient Education Fact Sheets ( This is a link to the Academy of Neurologic Physical Therapy Patient Education Fact Sheets. There is great information about PD here!

The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research | Parkinson's Disease The Michael J. Fox Foundations has worked tirelessly to provide information and lead research on PD.

Anything else I should know?

One important and exciting finding in regard to PD is the possible neuroprotective effect of exercise. Many research studies have demonstrated that the disease process of PD was SLOWER in those who engaged in REGULAR physical activity. The best kind of exercise is something that you can safely enjoy. Consistency is key in attaining these benefits, and having a type of exercise you enjoy will help you meet this. The best time to start is now!

If you have questions about any of this information or would like to learn more, please reach out to either our clinic or your physician!

Keep moving and stay healthy!

Anne Vance, PT, DPT

Doctor of Physical Therapy

Neurologic Clinical Specialist - pending


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