People who exercise regularly may be less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease — but leisurely strolls may not be enough. This news comes from a study of more than 143,300 U.S. men and women who were followed from 1992-2001.
When the study started, participants were 63 years old, on average. They reported their weekly hours of light exercise (walking or dancing) and moderate to vigorous exercise (jogging, running, swimming, bicycling, playing tennis or racquetball, or doing aerobics or calisthenics). A total of 413 participants were diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease by the end of the study.
The most active participants were the least likely to develop Parkinson’s disease in the next decade, according to the researchers, who included Evan Thacker, SM, of Harvard School of Public Health.
Exercise and Parkinson’s
The most important thing we can learn from this study was that high levels of moderate to vigorous recreational physical activity (like biking, swimming, aerobics, etc.) were associated with lower Parkinson’s disease risk.
Those with the highest levels of recreational physical activity at the beginning of the study had a lower risk of getting Parkinson’s disease over the next 10 years, compared to the people with low levels of recreational physical activity or none at all.
How Much Exercise?
The drop in Parkinson’s disease risk was only seen in people who got a lot of moderate to vigorous exercise. People who reported the highest levels of recreational physical activity in the study were doing about the equivalent of 5-6 hours of aerobics or 3-4 hours of lap swimming each week. Their Parkinson’s disease risk was 40% lower than the people who reported zero physical activity, or only light activities like walking.
Exercise Intensity Mattered
Light physical activity such as walking or dancing was not related to Parkinson’s disease risk at all. On the other hand, higher participation in moderate to vigorous activities such as biking, lap swimming, jogging, etc., was associated with lower Parkinson’s disease risk. No particular form of moderate to vigorous exercise stands out as being best.
Ten Basic Exercises for the Parkinson Patient
1. Bring the toes up with every step you take. In Parkinson’s disease, “you never make a move”, without lifting the toes.
2. Spread the legs (10 inches) when walking or turning, to provide a wide base, a better stance, and to prevent falling. It may not look “beautiful,” but neither does falling.
3. For greater safety in turning, use small steps, with feet widely separated. Never cross one leg over the other when turning. Practice walking a few yards and turn. Walk in the opposite direction and turn. Do so fifteen minutes a day.
4. Practice walking into tight corners of a room, to overcome fear of close places.
5. To insure good body balance, practice rapid excursions of the body. Backward, forward and to the right and left, five minutes, several times a day. Don’t look for a wall when you think you are falling. It may not be there. Your body will always be there to protect you, if you will practice balance daily.
6. When the legs feel frozen or “glued” to the floor, a lift of the toes eliminates muscle spasm and the fear of falling. You are free to walk again.
7. Swing the arms freely when walking. It helps to take body weight off the legs, lessens fatigue, and loosens the arms and shoulders.
8. If getting out of a chair is difficult, rise with “lightning speed,” to overcome the “pull of gravity.” Sitting down should be done slow, with body bent sharply forward, until one touches the seat. Practice this at least a dozen times a day.
9. If the body lists to one side, carry a shopping bag loaded with books or other weights in the opposite hand to decrease the bend.
10. Any task that is difficult, such as buttoning a shirt. Or getting out of bed, if practiced 20 times it day, becomes easier the 21st time.
Read more in Greg’s Book, MOVERS AND SHAKERS– Managing Parkinson’s through Exercise!
Greg Ryan is an accomplished author, personal trainer, life coach and owner of Resolutions Preventative Health Care through Fitness for Seniors and Diabetics in St. Matthews. www.resolutions.bz