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As life expectancy increases in the world’s ten most populous countries, the number of individuals with Parkinson’s disease (PD) over age 50 is expected to double from approximately 4.5 million in 2005 to 9.0 million by 2030. These numbers highlight the importance of seeking interventions, such as exercise, to minimize disability and improve mobility and quality of life in people with Parkinson’s disease. With advances in medical and surgical interventions, persons with Parkinson’s disease are living 20-30 years following their initial diagnosis. Despite these advances in treatment, however, people with Parkinson’s disease typically face a deterioration in mobility and activities of daily living that results in a loss of independence and a decline in quality of life. In addition, important contributors to disability in people with PD, such as loss of balance and voice problems, are less responsive to treatment by medications or surgery.

Over the last decade, more evidence is emerging revealing significant and clinically meaningful benefits of exercise for persons with Parkinson’s disease. Three specific lines of evidence are converging to strengthen the theory that physical activity and exercise exert a tangible benefit of persons with PD.

  1. Effects on nerve cells in animal models of Parkinson disease. Exercise studies of both animal models of Parkinson’s disease demonstrate improvements in function of nerve cells and the potential of increased survival of nerve cells within the affected area of the brain. At the very least, these findings suggest that exercise exerts its effects on the brain as well as the rest of the body.
  2. Exercise intervention studies with human participants.A recent critical review of the literature identified greater than 20 high quality studies demonstrating that persons with PD who participated in exercise programs had better quality of life, walking ability, balance, strength, flexibility and cardiovascular fitness compared to those who did not exercise.
    • Specific examples of studies that have shown positive effects include:
    • Researchers at the Washington University medical school in St. Louis recently found that people with Parkinson’s can significantly improve functional mobility by taking Argentine tango lessons and exercise classes. The tango group showed greater improvement in balance, which is critical to avoiding falls. “The dance classes included stretching, balance exercises, tango-style walking, footwork patterns, experimenting of timing of steps, and dance with and without a partner. The exercise classes included 40 minutes of seated exercise, followed by standing exercises supported by a chair, core strengthening and stretching.” (U.S. News & World Report)
    • Researchers at Duke University reported that regular flexibility exercises significantly improved mobility and coordination in people with early and mid stage Parkinson’s disease in as few as 10 weeks. “Introduced early, exercise programs might delay further impairment, or even reverse it,” study investigators concluded.
    • Researchers at Boston University reported that persons with Parkinson disease who were at risk of moving from home to nursing home care benefited from a focused inpatient exercise program conducted by Physical, Occupational, and Speech therapists. Participants improved in mobility measures and many were able to avoid nursing home placement.
  3. Long term follow-up of persons as they age suggests that those persons who engage in moderate to vigorous exercise appear to have a significant decreased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.

The Davis Phinney Foundation collaborates with many of these researchers in order to advance the understanding of exercise and physical activity in Parkinson disease. In addition, we are working to create symposia and training courses that will increase the availability of well trained providers and exercise programs to persons in their communities.

MORE THINGS YOU CAN DO

Parkinson’s Patients Go to Wii-hab
by LiveScience Staff
Playing virtual sports on the Nintendo Wii, an interactive video game console that makes players feel like they’re actually playing the sport, improved the mood and physical function of Parkinson’s disease in a new preliminary study.

To read the rest of the story click here.

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[R.S.]