Regular Exercise Can Help Slow Down Parkinson’s Disease

December 5, 2022

A research conducted by Rajkumar Krishnan Vasanthi from INTI International University along with his counterpart, Alfonsa Choo Kher Ying from B.E.N Physio, Kuala Lumpur, revealed that while a majority of people believe that exercise is able to assist in slowing down the progression of Parkinson’s Disease (PD), others were either unsure or think otherwise.

The study titled ‘A Survey of Exercise Beliefs Among People with Parkinson’s Disease in Malaysia’ defines PD as a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects multiple systems of the body, mainly in the later years of a human’s life.

According to Rajkumar, Head of Programme at the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, PD is known to be the second most common neurodegenerative disorder worldwide.

“It is a brain disorder that causes unintended or uncontrollable movements such as shaking, stiffness, and difficulty with balance and coordination. Symptoms usually begin gradually and worsen over time. As the disease progresses, people may have difficulty walking and talking. They may also have mental and behavioural changes, sleep problems, depression, memory difficulties, and fatigue,” he said.

Rajkumar Krishnan Vasanthi, Head of Programme of the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at INTI International University carried out a research titled ‘A Survey of Exercise Beliefs Among People with Parkinson’s Disease in Malaysia’ along with Alfonsa Choo Kher Ying from B.E.N Physio, Kuala Lumpur.

The research also stated that the symptoms of PD and the rate of progression differ among individuals.

“For example, people may feel mild tremors or have difficulty getting out of a chair. They may notice that they speak too softly, or that their handwriting is slow and looks cramped or small. Friends or family members may be the first to notice changes in someone with early Parkinson’s. They may see that the person’s face is lacking expression and animation, or that the person does not move an arm or leg normally,” said Rajkumar.

He added that a substantial amount of evidence supports exercise as a crucial non-pharmacological management to slow down the progression of PD. Despite that, people with Parkinson’s are still known to be physically inactive and this raises the need to investigate exercise beliefs and participation benefits so that strategies can be developed to improve the involvement of exercise.

As projected in Rajkumar’s research, exercise is vital to get one’s heart pumping.

He elaborated, “Everyone should exercise for their physical and mental wellbeing but being active is particularly important for people with PD. Exercise is a way to slow the disease and control its symptoms; it helps you maintain the ability to do everyday activities while protecting your brain cells. Symptoms that limit physical ability such as impaired gait, problems with balance and strength, grip strength, and motor coordination, show improvement with regular cardiovascular exercise.”

It is preferable that these exercises are tailored to match the diagnosis of each patient. In the research, it was also proven that there is no ‘right’ exercise for people with PD. Everyone’s regimen will differ, depending on overall health, symptoms, and previous level of activity. Any exercise helps, and a variety of exercise types may provide well-rounded benefits.

“Some of them include aerobics. These are activities that challenge one’s cardiorespiratory system – heart and lungs – such as walking, biking, running, and activities in the pool. Participating in aerobic exercises at least three days a week for 30 to 40 minutes may slow down Parkinson’s,” Rajkumar stated.

Furthermore, carrying out strength training twice a week, starting with low repetition and weight is said to be beneficial to PD too. This form of exercise involves using the weight of the body or other tools to build muscle mass and strength. A focus on extensor muscles, or muscles in the back of the body, can help with posture. Stretching two or more days per week can also be beneficial to maintain range of motion and posture. Holding the stretch of each major muscle group for 30 to 60 seconds can improve muscle length. This type of training often combines aerobic exercise, strength training, and flexibility training. Some of the stretching exercises include dancing, gardening, tai chi, yoga or pilates.

The outcomes of the study demonstrate that most people believe that exercise is as important to a person diagnosed with PD as taking medications on time. It helps to maintain strength, flexibility, balance, and cognitive acuity, allowing the individual to continue carrying out their daily routine without further hindrance. Although some are not on the same wavelength, spreading awareness on this matter will help more people know about the importance of exercising among patients with PD.