Parkinson’s Disease

This is a guest post by Joanna Stryjak. Many of us are more aware of this disease and how to combat it through the efforts of the Canadian actor, Michael J. Fox, and his Foundation.

What is Parkinson’s disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disease of the brain – it is, at present, incurable and may have a devastating impact on the life of the patient as well as their family and friends.

Symptoms of Parkinson’s include –

  • Involuntary tremors
  • Rigidity
  • Slowness of movement
  • Impaired balance

Some evidence suggests that regular exercise, under the supervision of the medical professionals responsible for patient care, may alleviate the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and so improve the quality of life.

Regular exercise – possible benefits

It is thought that there are many benefits for those Parkinson sufferers who take part in regular physical activity – these include

  • Improved control of gross motor movements
  • Improved muscle tone, flexibility and strength
  • Improved heart health
  • Improved coordination, balance and posture
  • Reduced muscle cramps
  • Increased confidence
  • Reduction of stress
  • Improved mobility of joints

Exercise routines

After consulting with your medical care professional team and devising an exercise program there are some things that should be considered before beginning the program –

  • The program should last for at least fifteen minutes each day
  • Stretch each joint and muscle group thoroughly before and after exercise
  • Spend sufficient time warming up and cooling down before and after exercise
  • Start with easy exercises – as fitness and confidence increase so the difficulty of the exercises can increase
  • Try your best!
  • Avoid over exertion – stop and rest if necessary in order to avoid a worsening of symptoms
  • Stop immediately if any exercise causes pain
  • Try to exercise in the morning in order to avoid extreme fatigue
  • Use music or exercise with others in order to make the program more enjoyable

Take care – be sensible

For patients who experience the classic Parkinson’s symptom of ‘freezing’ or falling it is important to take some precautions during any exercise –

  • Sit down when possible
  • Hold onto a chair when standing to exercise
  • If you are unable to stand or get up unaided it is important to avoid floor exercises
  • Plan exercise when others are available to help if necessary
  • Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help

Routines

Any exercise program should target the following areas –

  • General fitness levels
  • Muscle flexibility
  • Leg strengthening
  • Head and shoulders
  • Arms and torso
  • Face
  • Hands and wrists

Each exercise should be repeated up to ten times.

Overall fitness

Walking is excellent exercise providing a number of benefits, for the Parkinson’s patient there are a number of things that may improve the experience –

  • Stretch leg muscles prior to the walk
  • Choose terrain that is flat and free from obstructions
  • Take longer strains to improve balance
  • Focus – lift each foot and place heel first
  • Count the steps

For those who cannot walk well other exercise options include water aerobics or using an exercise bike. Aerobic exercise of this nature should be carried out at least three times a week.

Improve muscle flexibility

Stretching muscles will improve their flexibility and so improve movement.

  • Hold stretches for at least thirty seconds – avoid bouncing
  • Repeat stretches twice
  • Stop if you experience pain or discomfort
  • Include gentle stretches in the warm up and cool down sections of your exercise program

Face, head, and shoulders

  • Pulling faces in the mirror is a great way of exercising your face
  • Slowly turn the head as if looking over the shoulder
  • Lift the fact to the ceiling and drop the chin to the chest
  • Drop the ear to the shoulder alternating between sides
  • Raise and lower the shoulders in a shrug
  • Roll shoulders back and forth

Arms and torso

  • With hands clasped raise and lower the arms slowly over the head
  • Clasp hands behind the head and open the elbows
  • Lie flat on your back – preferably without a pillow – in order to improve posture

Hands and wrists

  • Touch the tip of each finger to the thumb
  • Rotate hands
  • Bend the wrists up and down
  • Clench and unclench hands

Legs

  • Lying flat on the back gently pull one knee to the chest, straighten and repeat with the other leg
  • Whilst seated extend the leg and draw a circle in the air with the foot – repeat with the other leg
  • Rock the feet from heel to toe encouraging full movement of the ankle whilst seated
  • Straighten the legs one at a time whilst seated
  • Slowly raise and lower the leg whilst seated as if stamping the floor in slow motion – repeat with the other leg
  • March on the spot, lift each leg as high as possible
  • Whilst laid flat on the bed with legs bent, raise the buttocks as high as possible

Use lightweights

The use of lightweights will increase the intensity of an exercise program. It is not necessary to buy specialised weights – tins of beans or bottles of water make excellent substitutes. Only use weights once you are confident enough to do three sets of ten repetitions and only use a weight you feel comfortable with.

Remember this

Regular exercise may improve some of the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease including rigidity, poor balance, slowness of movement, and impaired movement. It is, however, essential to consult with your health care team when planning an exercise program. When exercising take care not to overdo things and stop if you feel any pain or discomfort in order to avoid a worsening of symptoms.

Author Bio: Joanna Stryjak. is one of the specialists on Webctor.com. The portal is a health center which is responsible for bringing free and accurate medical information to the Internet.

Footnote: Michael J. Fox – an example to all

michael j fox

Michael J. Fox is a Canadian actor who set up the Michael J. Fox Foundation.  It has funded more than $120 million in Parkinson’s research.  Its goals are to provide better treatments & ultimately develop a cure for Parkinson’s disease.

The portrait here is by Steve Pyke, which was published in Esquire in January 2008.  It portrays well his strong determination to succeed.  In the article, Michael J. Fox spoke candidly about living with Parkinson’s disease: “If I let it affect everything, it’s gonna own everything. I don’t deny it or pretend it’s not there, but if I don’t allow it to be bigger than it is, I can do everything else.”

Image Credit: courtesy of cliff1066 via Flickr

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