You’ve likely heard this before: exercise is good for you. But here’s one thing you might not have heard: exercise also slows the progression of Parkinson’s disease.
“Aerobic exercise means vigorous exercise, which makes you hot, sweaty, and tired,” says J. Eric Ahlskog, PhD, MD, a neurologist at Mayo Clinic. “This could include walking briskly or using an elliptical machine. That doesn’t mean stretching or balance exercises are not helpful, as well - those types of exercises help with Parkinson’s symptoms, such as rigid muscles, slowed movement or impaired balance.”
But to help fight the progression of Parkinson’s disease, including dementia - one of the most feared long-term outcomes of the disease - Ahlskog points to scientific studies that show aerobic exercise enhances factors that potentially have a protective effect on the brain. For instance, aerobic exercise liberates trophic factors - small proteins in the brain that behave like fertiliser does when applied to your lawn. Exercise helps maintain brain connections and counters brain shrinkage from Parkinson’s disease as well as from brain ageing, says Ahlskog, author of “The New Parkinson’s Disease Treatment Book,” which further explores the benefits of aerobic exercise.
In an editorial published in JAMA Neurology, Ahlskog makes the case that modern physical therapy practices should incorporate aerobic exercise training and encourage fitness for patients with Parkinson’s disease. As a society, we are becoming increasingly sedentary. It is a particular challenge for people with Parkinson’s disease to begin and maintain aerobic exercise. “That is where a physical therapist might serve a crucial role in helping to counter Parkinson’s disease progression,” Dr Ahlskog says. “The physical therapist could identify the type of exercise that would appeal to the individual, initiate that plan and serve as exercise coach.”