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Parkinson’s disease and the role of exercise

Julie McTaggart

Julie McTaggart



Monday, Mar. 9, 2020

Parkinson’s disease is a long-term degenerative disorder of the central nervous system that mainly affects the motor system. It is characterized by tremors, rigidity, slowness of movement, balance impairments and difficulty walking, and it can also cause emotional and cognitive impairments.

What causes Parkinson’s disease and what you can do about it

Parkinson’s disease occurs due to the death of cells in an area of the brain, resulting in a decrease in dopamine levels. It is estimated that Parkinson’s disease will double by the year 2040.

Many people are aware of a medical treatment for Parkinson’s disease that increases dopamine levels (L-dopa or sinemet), but research now shows that regular, vigorous exercise will also help increase your dopamine levels.

Physiotherapists recommend high intensity exercise early in the Parkinson’s diagnosis to help produce dopamine. The most beneficial exercises have been shown to include high intensity, high effort and high amplitude movement patterns. Many community programs offer classes for Parkinson’s disease such as dancing (tango), boxing, Tai Chi, Chi Gong, yoga and music (drumming).

Taking an active approach to managing Parkinson’s disease

Generally, Parkinson’s disease that begins after the age of 50 is called late-onset. The condition is considered early-onset if signs and symptoms begin before the age of 50. If signs and symptoms begin before the age of 20, the condition is called juvenile-onset.

Although Parkinson’s disease is progressive and worsens over time, it affects individuals differently. Not all people who have Parkinson’s disease will experience all the symptoms and the symptoms may vary in intensity. Different people will also experience progression at different speeds.

That being said, healthcare professionals have established stages that describe how the disease generally progresses. These five stages of Parkinson’s are known as the Hoehn and Yahr Scale, which is used by clinicians throughout the world. If you’re looking for more information about Parkinson’s disease, the Michael J. Fox Foundation website is also a great resource.

It’s important to take an active approach to managing Parkinson’s disease. A registered physiotherapist can prescribe a customized exercise program adapted to your specific needs while providing education on things like fall prevention, mobility aides and other techniques that can be used for issues such as freezing or hypophonia.

If you would like to consult a Lifemark clinician, check out our Locations page to find a clinic near you or book online to schedule an appointment.

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