Parkinson’s is a condition that affects more than 13,000 New Zealanders and can affect anyone of any age but exercise and movement have been shown to significantly improve the lives of those who have the disease.
Today marks the start of Parkinson’s Awareness Week, which runs from 1 to 7 November. The theme for this year’s week is 200 Years of Parkinson’s Is Too Long. The year 2017 marks 200 years since Parkinson’s was recognized as a medical condition, and while efforts will made to acknowledge 200 years of progress in understanding and treating Parkinson’s the main message is that 200 years is too long to wait for a cure.
“While 200 years is far too long for people to wait for a cure, there has been significant scientific progress in it the last few years and exciting research is taking place in New Zealand,” says Parkinson’s New Zealand chief executive Deirdre O’Sullivan.
Some of that research has focused on the benefits of physical therapy and exercise. ExerciseNZ chief executive Richard Beddie (pictured below) says exercise has been shown to significantly improve the lives of those who have Parkinson’s.
“What’s important is that exercise needs intensity and also a cognitive function – engaging the mind and the body – to have the best effects. So, things such as dancing, or workouts with certain types of agility components, can be the most effective,” Beddie says.
“Parkinson’s is a progressive, neurological disease, with no cure. Symptoms and progression can be managed as exercise helps. Symptoms of Parkinson’s include lack of balance, tremors, stiffness or rigidity, and slowness of movement known as bradykinesia.
“One per cent of Kiwi adults over the age of 60 suffer the disease. Symptoms include a lack of balance and tremors.
“Exercise increases the body’s response to dopamine cells in the brain, thus slowing the progression of the disease in some people, and helping to manage the symptoms in others.
“Balanced exercises assist with reducing falls. People with Parkinson’s are at greater risk of falls.
Even 20 minutes a day of gentle exercise can help afflicted people.
“Exercise activities such as walking or dancing are steps in the right direction for people living with Parkinson’s disease. Getting exercise in early after diagnosis is key for the best outcomes.
“Fitness activity could help prevent falls in people living with the disease. Quite a number of New Zealand exercise trainers encourage people with the disease to be active.”
Beddie says people with Parkinson’s should work with their doctor or physio and then an exercise professional that has specialist training.