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Neuroprotective benefits of exercise

Neuroprotective benefits of exercise

Exercise for people with living with Parkinson’s exercise is not only healthy – it is vital for maintaining balance, mobility, and daily living activities.

There is also a potential neuroprotective effect. Exercising enhances the sense of wellbeing, even across different disease stages and severities.

How can I benefit from exercise?

Research has shown that exercise can improve gait, balance, tremor, flexibility, grip strength and motor coordination.

So far, studies have shown:

  • Engaging in any level of physical activity is beneficial, rather than being sedentary — this is associated with improved motor symptoms.
  • For people with mild to moderate Parkinson’s, targeted exercises can address specific symptoms. For example:
    • Aerobic exercise improves fitness
    • Walking exercises assist in gait
    • Resistance training strengthens muscles.
    • One study showed that twice-a-week tango dancing classes helped people with PD improve motor symptoms, balance, and walking speed.
  • Exercise may also improve cognition, depression, and fatigue.
  • One study showed that people living with Parkinson’s who exercised regularly for 2.5 hours a week had a smaller decline in mobility and quality of life over two years.
  • There is a strong consensus among physicians and physical therapists that improved mobility by exercising may improve thinking, memory and reduce risk of falls. By avoiding complications from falls you can prevent further injury.

How does exercise change the brain?

What happens in the brain to produce these visible benefits? Researchers at the University of Southern California looked at the brains of mice that had exercised under conditions parallel to a human treadmill and discovered that:

  • Exercising did not affect the amount of dopamine in the brain, but the mice that exercised the brain cells were using dopamine more efficiently.
  • Exercise improves efficiency by modifying the areas of the brain where dopamine signals are received — the substantia nigra and basal ganglia.

Scientists at University of Pittsburgh found that in animal models, exercise induces and increases the beneficial neurotrophic factors – particularly GDNF (glial-derived neurotrophic factor) which reduces the vulnerability of dopamine neurons to damage.

What kinds of exercises are helpful for people living with Parkinson’s?

Any form of physical exercise you do without injuring yourself will provide benefit.

Before beginning any new exercise, consult your doctor.

Formal exercise programs balance several different aspects of fitness including strength, balance, coordination, flexibility, and endurance.

Each of these areas provide a benefit to people living with Parkinson’s. Achieving a balance that works and engages you in a program you can start, maintain, and expand upon is the goal.

Examples of exercise programs for people living with Parkinson’s include:

  • Intensive sports training
  • Treadmill training with body weight support
  • Resistance training
  • Aerobic exercise
  • Alternative forms of exercise (yoga and Tai Chi)
  • Home-based exercise (YouTube videos)
  • Stretching
  • Practice of movement strategies

When Should I Start Exercising?

Right now! Everyone should exercise more, whether they have Parkinson’s or not.

The best way to see benefits is to exercise on a consistent basis. People living with Parkinson’s enrolled in exercise programs with durations longer than six months, regardless of exercise intensity, have shown significant gains in functional balance and mobility as compared to programs of only two-week or 10-week durations.

Regardless of your condition, always stretch, warm up and cool down properly.

Exercise in a way that is safe for you. Know your limits.
First published by the US Parkinson’s Foundation 

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