Medication is crucial to control the symptoms of Parkinson’s but keeping active can slow down the progression of the disease.
For those who get Parkinson’s at a young age, keeping fit, bringing up children, working full-time and having a social life are an inevitability, so finding ways to slow progression is key.
Doctors try to keep people off of the medication or at a lower dosage so that they work for as long as possible, as eventually the drugs lead to side effects.
Alex Flynn, 46, Oxford, has had Parkinson’s for ten years but runs in super marathons across the world, he credits his lifestyle for how well his body has dealt with the disease.
He said: “Without dopamine you don’t move, so the more I move, the better I am. I’m 46, I haven’t got time to waste.
“I go by the way my body feels, if I start to take medication all the time, taking all this artificial, synthetic dopamine and Levadopa, I’m not allowing my body the chance to develop its own.
“What I’m trying to do with the exercise I do, is stimulate my hippocampus, in my brain, to produce more stem cells, which will hopefully slow down my decline.”
Alex has raced the equivalent to three quarters of the planet, including through the Amazon jungle and across America. He was the first man to run from London to Rome in 30 days.
Rowing the Indian Ocean
People are going to great lengths to not only raise awareness of Parkinson’s at a young age, but to promote exercise in those that have the disease.
Four men are rowing the Indian Ocean to do just this. In June they are rowing 3,600 miles non-stop and are trying to do it in 65 days.
Robin Buttery, 46, Leicester, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s almost three years ago. He doesn’t have much experience with rowing in deep water, but he is taking part in the row because of his Parkinson’s.
He said: “The whole thing for me is about promoting Young Onset Parkinson’s disease awareness, promoting exercise because I think exercise is the way forward.”
“I’ve been considered to be a drunk walking home from the pub before when I’ve not, I’ve had a drink but I haven’t been a drunk, its actually a stagger caused by my leg. There are stigma’s associated with it.”
His three friends are more experienced and all bring their own attributes to possibly break a world record, but raising awareness is their main aim.
Rowing an ocean is extreme and will no doubt raise awareness of the disease, but exercise is becoming more accessible locally and in a more realistic way.
Dr Steve Meadows from the University of Kent helps to run an exercise class for people who have Parkinson’s. He records their progression weekly to help uncover the impact exercise has on Parkinson’s sufferers.
He said: “Exercise cannot cure Parkinson’s Disease, but it can help to maintain function and there is growing evidence that it can also help slow down the progression.
“The people with Parkinson’s Disease who we work with tell us that the exercise really helps with their symptoms as well as promoting their general sense of well-being.”
Parkinson’s is the loss of dopamine in the brain, this is what helps to send signals to the body to control movement. Exercise can stimulate nerve cells in the brain and therefore helps to prevent the loss of brain cells.
Keeping the brain active is what slows down the rate of symptoms. Exercise classes with questions and challenges help to stimulate people physically and mentally.
Studies are just beginning to help prove that exercise has a significant effect on the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease, but one woman knows from experience how exercise impacts those who have it.
Melissa McConaghy, founder of PD Warrior, helped to set up an exercise approach that works better than more traditional methods.
PD Warrior engages people mentally while doing exercise. It educates, empowers and aims to slow down the progression of Parkinson’s in those who participate.
Melissa thinks exercise is essential and is the only disease modifying strategy out there. Drugs are only able to control symptoms and doesn’t effect the rate of decline.
She said: “In the early stages it can improve the clinical symptoms of the disease, both motor, moving, balancing, non-motor, mood, cognition, sleep and anxiety.
“It also aims to increase confidence and self-efficacy in the individual, vital in helping them to establish strong adherence to exercise long-term.”
It’s clear from those who have Parkinson’s that it impacts on their lives, some of which have taken part in a ten week PD Warrior challenge.
Dee Oakley, 61, Winchester, takes part in PD Warrior and says that exercise has reduced how much medication she needs to take, and that she has been on the same dosage for two years.
She said: “Exercise has helped me go from someone who couldn’t walk very far without using aids and having to sit every five minutes, to now walking unaided.
“I also fell many times a week and was constantly bruised to now not falling at all and I haven’t had a near miss in months.”
More groups are being set up to help people who have Parkinson’s with their physical symptoms and cognition.
The disease is a compilation of tremor, muscle cramps, insomnia, depression, constipation, abnormal posture, memory loss, stiffness, slowness, speech problems and more.
With all of the symptoms that come with Parkinson’s at any age, specialist exercise training and guidance is needed to educate people with the condition on how they can slow their progression.
You can visit PD Warrior at www.pdwarrior.com.