On April 11th, we celebrated World Parkinson's Disease Day. On this occasion, the world focuses its attention on this disease. April 11th marks the anniversary of the English physician James Parkinson (1755-1824), who was the first to describe the symptoms of the disease. World Parkinson's Disease Day serves as an ideal moment for us to reflect on the opportunities that Parkinson's patients have, despite their limitations, such as sports. It's an excellent way to distract oneself, reconcile with one's body, and work on movements.
Parkinson's disease is a movement disorder in which automatic movements become slower, smaller, and less smooth. The more complex the movement, the more difficult it becomes. However, exercise is a powerful tool for slowing down and managing the disease. Exercise stimulates the production of dopamine in the brain, which is the substance necessary to control movement muscles and is deficient in Parkinson's patients. Therefore, it is highly beneficial and important for people with this disease to engage in or continue exercising.
Exercise helps reduce both motor and non-motor symptoms of the disease. Think about balance issues and reduced dexterity. Through specific exercises, patients can learn how to prevent falls and manage bothersome symptoms such as "rigidity," where a patient suddenly freezes while walking. Moreover, exercise has a positive impact on common symptoms like constipation, sleep problems, and depression.
Unfortunately, the barrier to exercise is often high for individuals with Parkinson's. They may have fears or lack motivation due to motor disabilities and depressive states. This is regrettable because there are still many sports activities available, whether at home, outdoors, or in nearby care facilities. Special training classes, for example, are organized for Parkinson's patients in sports clubs and nursing homes.
Tai Chi and Yoga: Tai Chi and Yoga are activities perfectly suited for Parkinson's patients. To regain control of their movements, it's important for them to move more consciously, which is precisely what Tai Chi and Yoga focus on. Furthermore, these movement disciplines provide exercises that benefit both mental and physical health, helping to strengthen muscles, maintain body balance, and relax.
Dance: Dance is an effective way to promote balance, work against stiffness, and practice fine motor skills. Music provides an extra stimulus to move. American choreographer Mark Morris has been developing special dance programs for Parkinson's patients since 2001. Many care facilities and nursing homes now offer specialized dance classes for individuals with movement disorders, including Parkinson's.
Boxing: Boxing training helps improve communication between muscles and the brain. During this sport, patients must constantly shift between their brains and bodies, making it a great way to practice agility and coordination. Additionally, boxing helps Parkinson's patients train their reaction speed and strength, which are affected by the disease. Training sessions are non-contact, meaning patients hit or kick with boxing gloves, pads, or punching bags.
Cycling: Even when walking becomes difficult, cycling is often still possible for Parkinson's patients. Riding a stationary bike, for example, is a safe way to keep moving. Outdoor cycling can also be done safely. If regular cycling becomes challenging due to the disease's symptoms, adapted bikes can be rented or purchased. Some bikes even allow simultaneous movement of hands and legs.
When choosing a physical activity, it's important not only to find a safe way to exercise but also to choose an activity that suits you. If you don't really enjoy the sport you're practicing, you'll find it more challenging to exercise regularly and in the long term. A physical therapist can help you find and implement a suitable exercise program. Nursing homes also organize many activities to keep residents moving, often considering the capabilities and limitations of Parkinson's patients.
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