Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease associated with the loss of dopamine-producing nerve cells deep in the brain. As the nerve cells die, the amount of dopamine in the brain is decreased. Because dopamine helps regulate the body’s movement, the loss of dopamine leads to decreased mobility.
Some common symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are tremors, rigidity, bradykinesia (slow movement) and balance problems. These symptoms typically show up after 80 percent of the dopamine-producing nerve cells have died. We currently do not know what causes Parkinson’s disease, but some researchers believe it is a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Parkinson’s is very difficult to diagnose because it is so individualized and has varying symptoms. There are still no definitive brain scans or blood tests that can positively identify Parkinson’s. The diagnosis has been based on the common motor signs such as tremors, stiffness, slowness and postural instability. However, there are many non-motor symptoms that can occur years before the motor symptoms. These pre-motor symptoms can include constipation, loss of the sense of smell, sleep disorders and depression. There is a lot of current research taking place that focuses on these pre-motor symptoms with the hope that people can be diagnosed much earlier, before the motor symptoms become apparent.
Current treatment for Parkinson’s disease typically includes medication, exercise and sometimes DBS (Deep Brain Stimulation). There tends to be a lot of focus on medication, but meds alone are not enough for optimal wellness. The combination of meds and exercise together allow for optimal wellness. Exercise is a physiological tool that can promote brain health. Other benefits of exercise for Parkinson’s are improved strength, endurance, flexibility, sleep and mood. The question then becomes: what exercise is the best for someone who has Parkinson’s disease?
The key is to start now! It is never too late to start an exercise program. A comprehensive program should include aerobic activity, postural exercises and stretching, balance and exercises for fine motor skills, and strengthening. Some examples of exercise programs include Tai Chi, yoga, dancing, cycling and boxing.
Another program – specifically for Parkinson’s disease – is called PWR! (Parkinson’s Wellness Recovery). Dr. Becky Farley, a physical therapist, neuroscientist and expert on exercise and Parkinson’s disease, developed this research-based, Parkinson-specific approach that targets the foundational movements affected by Parkinson’s disease. Dr. Farley’s PWR! targets deficits such as posture, balance, rigidity, transfers and walking. The fundamental movements include PWR! up, PWR! rock, PWR! twist and PWR! step. These fundamental movements can be incorporated into any exercise program.
For more info on the PWR! program, visit pwr4life.org. In addition, Genesys Athletic Club offers PWR! classes twice a week. These classes are open to the public. You can learn more by calling Genesys Athletic Club at 810.606.7300. You also can check out the Michigan Parkinson’s Foundation website for info on exercise classes: parkinsonsmi.org.