Lifestyle and Parkinson’s Disease

Physical Activity and Exercise

Motor disturbances are common amongst people with Parkinson’s disease, including poor balance with an associated greater chance of falling as well as stiffness and loss of muscular control. This often leads to decreased mobility. Engaging in regular physical therapy and exercise may be an effective strategy to help improve balance, avoid falls and reduce stiffness.

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In addition, numerous studies have shown that exercise and regular physical activity positively impact the brain. In fact, research has demonstrated that regular physical activity can significantly reduce the loss of dopaminergic neurons and improve movement and balance by providing neuronal and mitochondrial protection.

People with Parkinson’s disease should be as active as possible and look for hobbies to replace those they can no longer do (or modify existing hobbies if possible to accommodate any current limitations). Research has shown that walking is a very beneficial activity and regular walking should be practiced daily. Physiotherapists may also recommend specific exercises to increase mobility.

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A target goal of 20 minutes at least 3 times per week is ideal (working at a target heart rate of 75% of your maximum (age-adjusted) heart rate). Those not currently engaged in regular physical activity should speak with their healthcare provider about beginning a structured exercise and/or physical therapy regimen.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

It is very common for those with Parkinson’s disease to also have other symptoms of neurotransmitter imbalance, including depression and/or anxiety, psychosis (as a side effect of Parkinson’s disease medications) and/or dementia. Research has shown that Cognitive behavioral therapy may provide a highly effective drug-free alternative for addressing the psychological disturbances that often present with Parkinson’s disease. In a study published in 2011, researchers found that 56% of depressed patients with Parkinson’s disease showed significant improvement in depressive symptoms after 10 weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy compared to just 8% of those that did not received cognitive behavioral therapy.

Interestingly, cognitive behavioral therapy may also be an effective treatment for some of the physical symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease. Another study published in 2011 found that cognitive behavioral therapy led to a significant reduction in the incidence of urinary incontinence in people older than 50 years old that also had Parkinson’s disease.

There are several different variations of cognitive behavioral therapy and it is important to find a style that works best for each person. People with Parkinson’s disease should contact their healthcare provider and speak with a cognitive behavior therapist to determine which options are appropriate for them.

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