Studies Show Exercise May be the Best Medicine for Parkinson’s Disease

According the the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, “Nearly one million people in the US are living with Parkinson’s disease.” This chronic, debilitating movement disorder has a variety of painful and mobility-limiting symptoms, including significant muscle tremors, bradykinesia (slowed movement), rigidity of the limbs and trunk, loss of balance, and unstable posture. Unfortunately, as of yet, Parkinson’s Disease (PD) remains incurable. There is, however, one major, clinically supported method for mitigating the progression of PD, and alleviating some of the symptoms. This method is a recurrent theme, here on the AlterG blog, and is also our favorite weapon to wield in our pitched battle against chronic disease: that almighty howitzer of health, exercise! 

Loads of new research has been pouring in, touting the myriad of benefits that exercise holds for patients suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. The National Parkinson Foundation sums up a few of these studies on their Exercise Research Page. Briefly, here are a few break-downs of their clinical examples:

-A Rhodes University study has found that exercise was protective against MPTP, a neurotoxin that is used to mimic Parkinson’s Disease in animal subjects. The findings, in this case, were quite dramatic. 3 months of daily exercise provided complete protection for the mice against MPTP. This may be due to “changes in proteins related to energy regulation, cellular metabolism, cytoskeleton dynamics, and intracellular signaling events.”

-A study out of the University of Pittsburgh points to a possible explanation for the PD-combatting effects of exercise. The researchers found that exercise was associated with an increase in neurotrophic factors, glial-derived neurotrophic factors (GDNF), in particular. Previous research has indicated that GDNF can help those with Parkinson’s who lack sufficient numbers of neuroprotective mechanisms. GDNF-promoting activities, in this case, exercise, may help to enhance this therapeutic benefit.

-A review of published research on treadmill training turned up 3 studies in which exercise had an immediate impact for PD patients. After just one treadmill bout, the subjects of these studies showed increases in walking speed and stride length as well as marked improvements in balance. Long-term effects of the other studies included: better gait mechanics and speed, improvements in daily function and fall safety, and overall reduction of PD symptoms.

So, we’ve established that exercise is extremely beneficial for patients with PD, but what types of exercises are best? According to the Parkinson’s Disease Clinic and Research Center, “There is increasing evidence that aerobic and learning-based exercises could be neuroprotective in aging individuals and those with neurodegenerative disease.  Facilitating exercise programs that challenge our heart and lungs as well as promote good biomechanics, good posture, trunk rotation and normal rhythmic, symmetric movements are the best.” Examples of such exercises could include walking at different speeds and inclines, dancing, yoga, Tai Chi, hiking using a walking stick and practicing stepping over obstacles, sports requiring hand-eye coordination (i.e. tennis or golf), and swimming with varying strokes and with the eyes open (combining cardiovascular training with motor learning).

Now, you know how we feel about exercise, and as you can guess, we are pretty jazzed about what our AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill™ has to offer those with PD who are seeking to reap the rewards of “getting physical.” Our gently supportive, fall-safe environment allows patients to focus on their workout, rather than on the constant fear of taking a tumble. This means that even PD sufferers with severe mobility and balance impairments can rediscover the sheer joy of pain-free, unrestricted movement again, a joy that PD has callously robbed from so many.

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again (and again… and again…): exercise is THE answer! We don’t even have to look at the question anymore. Here at AlterG, our mission is to make this “medicine” accessible to all, regardless of their ailment. For those of you with PD, we hope that we can help you take your first steps toward a better, brighter tomorrow. We may not be able to defy Parkinson’s just yet, but we sure can defy gravity.