Neurosurgery and Brain Health How Exercise Can Benefit Parkinson’s Disease Patients By Neurosurgery, September 28, 2014 We all know that exercise is one of the most important aspects of how to lead a healthy lifestyle. But it can also help Parkinson’s disease patients potentially lead a more fulfilling and active life. Before the development of effective drug therapies in the 1960s, doctors would have their patients exercise as much as possible to combat the progressive symptoms of the disease, even though there was no research to back the claim. And while today’s medications offer patients some relief, most of the drugs have serious side effects and can lose effectiveness over time. Now, recent studies have shown that exercising three times a week at a level high enough to break a sweat and raise the heart rate can counter, and even delay, the onset of progressive Parkinson’s symptoms. In fact, the research is so promising that The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research has funded close to $3 million in exercise research. How Exercise Benefits Those With Parkinson’s Parkinson’s disease affects the brain by killing off brain cells, or neurons, that control dopamine. This brain chemical allows the neurons to communicate with muscles throughout the body. When this process is disrupted, abnormal movements occur, as well as the decline of motor skills, such as walking or writing, or tying shoes. Research at the University of Pittsburgh shows that in animal studies, lab mice produce increased blood flow and synapses, or message paths, between neurons when exercising. This means that the neurons are firing with more energy and are living longer, which can slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease symptoms. “Exercise is a very important part in trying to treat Parkinson’s disease,” explains Mark Richardson, MD, PhD, UPMC Neurosurgeon and Parkinson’s disease expert. “We always try to keep patients on an active regimen because in addition to helping slow the symptoms, exercise can also help improve gait, balance, flexibility, grip strength and motor coordination, which is important when dealing with such a debilitating disease.” What Exercises Are Beneficial? Parkinson’s patients can benefit from a variety of exercises, but one important aspect to remember, according to Dr. Richardson, is the more intensity the better. “I always advise my patients to exercise with intensity for as long as possible as often as possible. Research shows that intense exercise helps the brain use dopamine more efficiently, thus possibly slowing the progress of Parkinson’s disease.” Exercises that are beneficial for Parkinson’s disease patients include: Cycling Rowing Non-contact boxing Swimming and water aerobics High intensity walking Other activities that may also be beneficial for patients with Parkinson’s disease include: Weight training Pilates Tai Chi Yoga If you would like to learn more about exercise for Parkinson’s disease, as well as other developments in the field, visit the UPMC Department of Neurosurgery or call 1-877-986-9862 to schedule an appointment.