Across the country, an increasing number of people with Parkinsonâs disease are taking back control over their lives from the disease. They are filing into various classes, like boxing, dancing, drumming, tai chi, and more, displaying their mastery over their bodies that their condition tried to strip from them.
The majority of Parkinsonâs patientsâof which there are about a millionâare diagnosed with the condition in their 60s, but that doesnât mean younger people are in the clear. About 10%â20% of cases are diagnosed in people under 50. Sometimes, it causes rapid degeneration; other times, it is more drawn out.
As the population ages, it is expected that another 50,000 cases will be diagnosed this year. And that number will likely grow in the future. For those who are unaware, Parkinsonâs is a nervous system disorder thatâs signified by reduced control over oneâs muscles. It typically leads to tremors, loss of balance, and difficulty walking or speaking.
Fortunately, each day, researchers and health professionals are finding new ways to help combat the disease and its symptoms. And it turns out that regular exercise classes, like boxing and tai chi, may be the key to reducing your risk of Parkinsonâs disease or taking back control over your body.
Boxing Classes Making a Big Difference for Parkinsonâs Patients
A National Public Radio (NPR) report recently highlighted a gym in Rhode Island called âRock Steady Boxingâ thatâs dedicating classes to Parkinsonâs patients in order to help them battle the disease. The classes have participants ranging in age from 46 to 84. They work on boxing drills, hit a heavy bag, and perform calisthenics and stretching.
Although boxing doesnât cure the disease, it does make it more manageable. One participant indicated that his time in the gym makes him feel stronger and more mobile, even extending the time between his medication from three to six hours. In addition to the physical benefits, he reports improved self-confidence and relief from depression.
But boxing is not the only activity thatâs been showing positive results for Parkinsonâs patients who are getting active. Dancing, tai chi, walking on a treadmill, golf, and weight training are all showing benefits, regardless of the patientâs age and physical condition. As was mentioned earlier, most are not diagnosed with Parkinsonâs until they are in their 60s.
What Science Is Saying: Tai Chi, Moderate Exercise May Prevent Progression of Parkinsonâs
One of the most heavily studied exercise methods regarding Parkinsonâs is tai chi. This Chinese method of exercise involves slow movements that emphasize balance, stretching, strength, and a very important mind-muscle connection. So far, itâs proven to improve motor coordination, flexibility, grip strength, balance tremors, walking ability, and other aspects of gait.
In a 2012 study, Parkinsonâs patients who practiced tai chi twice a week for six months displayed better balance and control over their movements than people who did weight training or stretching. The group who weight trained had better balance and less falls than the group who just stretched.
Because of the mind-muscle connection and relaxing âmindfulnessâ of tai chi, it might produce better effects than other forms of exercise. This is largely because it engages the whole body in an upright position, using natural, fluid movements that are quite similar to those you often make in daily life. Slower and more focused, yes, but similar nonetheless. Itâs quite possible that performing these movements in a concentrated fashion during tai chi improves the mind-muscle connection, so Parkinsonâs patients have more control in real time. A research team at Harvard Medical School is currently closely studying the relationship.
Itâs also possible that moderate exercise can be a preventative measure for Parkinsonâs. A Swedish study tracked 43,000 people for almost 13 years, and noticed that the risk of Parkinsonâs was cut in half for those who engaged in moderate levels of exercise.
So it seems that you can fight back against Parkinsonâs disease, with a growing body of research indicating exercise can be effective for treating and preventing the rapidly growing condition that affects more people than ALS, MS, and muscular dystrophy combined!
Talk to your doctor to find out what you can get involved in to minimize your risk or halt Parkinsonâs progression, or see whatâs happening in your area at local community centers, senior centers, or gyms. Whether itâs tai chi, dancing, or boxing, if you regularly participate in a program, you can potentially reduce your risk of falls and other injuries that can come as a result of Parkinsonâs. The exercise can also help battle depression that is common in people with chronic or degenerative illnesses, so itâs highly recommended to take a closer look at this natural, healthy form of therapy.
Sources for Todayâs Article:
Li, F., et al., âTai Chi and Postural Stability in Patients with Parkinsonâs Disease,â New England Journal of Medicine 2012; 366: 511â519.
âNeuroprotective Benefits of Exercise,â National Parkinson Foundation web site; http://www.parkinson.org/Parkinson-s-Disease/Treatment/Exercise/Neuroprotective-Benefits-of-Exercise, last accessed February 5, 2015.
Yang, F., et al., âPhysical Activity and Risk of Parkinsonâs Disease in the Swedish National March Cohort,â Brain February 2015; 138(Pt 2): 269â75, doi: 10.1093/brain/awu323.
Knox, R., âFight Parkinsonâs: Exercise May Be the Best Therapy,â NPR web site, February 2, 2015; http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2015/02/02/381937503/fight-back-against-parkinsons-exercise-may-be-the-best-therapy?sc=ipad?f=1128.