Although physical activity may seem impossible for some Parkinson’s patients, the new research review reaffirms what many specialists already believe: that exercise can have a long-term impact, improving gait and reducing risk of falls, in particular.
“I pretty much never see a Parkinson’s disease patient without recommending exercise,” said Dr. Michael Okun, medical director of the Parkinson’s Foundation. He is also chairman of neurology at the University of Florida.
Parkinson’s disease causes the brain to produce less dopamine, which leads to a loss of movement control. Physical symptoms include shaking, slowness and stiffness, but vary widely between individuals.
The review measured the combined outcomes of more than 100 studies conducted over the past 30 years on the effect of exercise in Parkinson’s patients. It showed that physical activity has clear benefits, specifically for strength, mobility, flexibility and balance.
“When I started my career, we always said exercise is like a drug for Parkinson’s disease. Now we say it and kind of mean it,” Okun said.
About 1 million Americans live with Parkinson’s, which can develop over many years, according to the foundation. Between 50,000 and 60,000 cases are diagnosed annually in the United States.
Martine Lauze is first author of the new review, published recently in the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease. She’s a kinesiologist, or body movement expert, and researcher at the University of Quebec at Montreal.
“A lot of people are afraid to exercise — they don’t know exactly what to do,” said Lauze, who works with Parkinson’s patients privately.
Dr. Andrew Feigin, a neurologist at the Cushing Neuroscience Institute in Manhasset, N.Y., has some suggestions for people wondering where to start.
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