Can physical activity help people with Parkinson's disease?

Benefits of exercise on Parkinson
Benefits of exercise on Parkinson's disease (Image via Unsplash/Chander R)

Parkinson's disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects the movement of body parts. Symptoms usually start unnoticeable but gradually progress into serious and irreversible conditions if not treated timely.

A recent study on 7939 participants shed light on the effects of physical activity and exercise on the progression and pathophysiology of this deadly neurodegenerative disorder. Read on to find out what this study concluded and how exercise can play a role in the management of Parkinson's disease.

Parkinson's disease and exercise: A study

Exercise can improve limb mobility in Parkinson's disease. (Image via Unsplash/Gabin Vallet)
Exercise can improve limb mobility in Parkinson's disease. (Image via Unsplash/Gabin Vallet)

A review by Cochrane, a non-profit international organization of experts, was conducted by Dr. Elke Kalbe, Professor of Medical Psychology at the University of Cologne, Germany. He examined 156 randomized controlled trials comparing exercise with no exercise, different types of exercise and no exercise at all among people with the disease.

The team found that physical exercise ranging from dance, water-based exercise, strength training (resistance exercise), endurance training, tai chi, yoga and physiotherapy contributed to significant improvements in movement-related (motor) symptoms in people with Parkinson's disease. Professor Kalbe said:

"Symptoms begin gradually and include movement problems such as trembling, stiffness, slowness of movement and balance, and lack of coordination. People can also have emotional and mood problems, fatigue, sleep problems, and cognitive difficulties.
"Parkinson’s disease cannot be cured, but the symptoms can be relieved, and physiotherapy or other forms of exercise may help too. Until now, it has been unclear whether some types of exercise work better than others. We wanted to find out what exercise works best to improve movement and quality of life."

Although the results were quite promising, it has to be kept in mind that this review was not meant to be medical advice. Mr. Moritz Ernst said:

“It is important to point out that our conclusions do not rule out that certain motor symptoms may be treated most effectively by programmes, such as physiotherapy, that are designed specifically for people with Parkinson’s disease.”

It was also concluded that more studies are required with a larger sample size to get accurate results.

Larger studies with clearly defined samples are required to generate enough data that can be useful for the prevention of neurodegenerative disorders and for improving brain health.

Symptoms of Parkinson's disease

Parkinson's disease is a type of neurodegenerative condition. (Image via Unsplash/Robina Weermeijer)
Parkinson's disease is a type of neurodegenerative condition. (Image via Unsplash/Robina Weermeijer)

Parkinson's signs and symptoms are often difficult to notice in the early stages. Keep an eye on the following signs, and take proper medical advice:

  • Tremor: A tremor, or rhythmic shaking, usually begins in a limb, hands or fingers.
  • Slowed movement (bradykinesia): Movements of the limbs gradually slow down when the disease progresses, which is one of the early symptoms.
  • Muscle rigidity: Muscle stiffness may occur in any part of the body.
  • Impaired posture and balance: It might get difficult to maintain balance or proper posture in day-to-day tasks.
  • Loss of involuntary movements: Not just the limbs, certain involuntary movements, including eye blinking, may be impaired.
  • Speech issues: While speaking, speech might get slurred or slowed.
  • Difficulty with writing: Small movements like writing or drawing can get difficult to perform.

If any of these symptoms are observed, proper medical advice from a doctor must be taken as soon as possible. Parkinson's disease can be managed with modern medical advancements, and timely diagnosis can help with the treatment.

Indranil Biswas is a nutritionist and personal trainer with a diploma in dietetics and personal training with a specialization in sports nutrition and strength training.

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Edited by Bhargav