Does exercise delay Parkinson’s decline?

By Matilda Charles

People who have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease might want to reconsider doing strenuous exercise as a means of keeping their physical abilities.

A recent short-term study concluded that normal, frequent movements are better for Parkinson’s patients than working out. The study was funded by some power hitters — the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Michael J. Fox Foundation and the National Institutes of Health — and conducted by Parkinson’s research teams at the University of Michigan. Their conclusions bear paying attention to, even though they might seem contrary to logic.

Many Parkinson’s patients begin to reduce the amount of time they spend moving. Whether it’s a walk around the block, doing dishes or strolling the aisles of the grocery store, many prefer to forgo those daily activities to keep from falling or losing balance.

In the four-week study, using 48 participants, researchers looked at the result of non-exercise movement versus exercise activity. They did PET scans of the brain to look at dopamine levels and used questionnaires to learn about the participants’ level of activity and the type they did — daily routines or exercise.

Researchers tested whether a strenuous exercise program such as swimming or aerobics could help with symptoms. The answer: No, it’s the daily, small activities that were protecting motor skills. It’s those routine movements that were linked to fewer motor symptoms, even in those patients with lower dopamine levels.

So, say the researchers, get up and move. Any kind of movement appears to help, as long as it keeps you active and doing your normal, daily tasks.

Reminder: The open enrollment period to sign up or change your Medicare health and drug plan ends

Monday, Dec. 7.

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