Dr. Melita Petrossian, Medical Director at Pacific Movement Disorders Center in Santa Monica, has penned an article in The Santa Monica Star on the importance of physical activity for those with PD.

Patients with Parkinson’s disease (PD), a brain condition that affects movement and balance and can cause tremor, often have the same worry: Is my mind going to be affected?

“While most patients have normal cognition at the start of the condition, PD can unfortunately affect various aspects of their thinking as the disease progresses.” The most powerful treatment we can recommend is physical exercise. Many people are surprised to hear that exercise can literally change the brain both physically and chemically.

Exercise releases brain-derived neural factor (BDNF), which supports and protects brain cells. It makes the brain cells use dopa-mine more efficiently (a key neurotransmitter which is reduced in PD patients), and it results in the formation of new synapses (connections) between brain cells.

Thus, exercise results in neuroplasticity, the brain’s way of healing itself in the face of a chronic condition. Clinically, exercise has been shown to improve global cognitive function, processing speed, sustained attention, and mental flexibility in PD patients.

So what activities should PD patients do?

• Cardiovascular/aerobic fitness: With the guidance of their internist and/or cardiologist, three to four times per week, for 30-45 minutes per session

• Treadmill, exercise bike, elliptical, swimming/water aerobics

• Skill-based exercise: exercise with a conscious and mindful awareness of the body requiring concentration while exercising. It may involve cognitive tasks while exercising, or doing something different with the upper body compared to lower body, or left body vs. right body.

• Tai Chi

• Boxing (e.g. Rock Steady Boxing or StoPD)

• Dance (e.g. tango/ballroom or “Dancing through Parkinson’s”)

• Dual tasking (cognitive training simultaneous with motor training)

• Pilates

• Yoga

• Social interaction/engagement: Avoid isolation and interact with friends and family. Creative endeavors such as singing, visual art, and dance engage brain areas that are inhibited in our usual life.

In summary, just keep moving!

By Dr. Melita Petrossian

Dr. Petrossian is the Director of the Pacific Movement Disorders Center. As a specialized movement neurologist, she cares for patients with Parkinson’s disease, essential tremor, and cervical dystonia, as well as a wide range of other movement disorders. Contact PacificMovement.org online, or call 310-582-7433 for details.

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