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Exercise important for people with Parkinson's

28 October 2004

Exercise important for people with Parkinson's

We all know the importance of making exercise part of everyday living. For people with Parkinson's disease exercise is a strategic component, helping to improve body strength and muscle tone, and slowing the progression of the condition. As well as improving general health and well-being, exercise seems to improve the body's response to dopamine - a component of most Parkinson's medications.

"People with Parkinson's are advised to get around 20 to 30 minutes of exercise each day," said Parkinson's New Zealand National Director Deirdre O'Sullivan. "Stretching exercises are particularly beneficial."

Research has shown that exercise can significantly reduce falls, a common problem for people with Parkinson's. Strength, flexibility and balance exercises will decrease the risk of falling. Exercises to build strength and flexibility are part of an exercise booklet and poster produced by Parkinson's New Zealand as part of this year's Parkinson's Awareness Week theme Keep moving, keep fit. Awareness Week is runs from 1 to 7 November.

Parkinsons New Zealand is the only organisation that provides support, education and information to people with Parkinsonism conditions, their families, carers and health professionals. Parkinsons New Zealand has divisions and support groups throughout New Zealand. The divisions are run by volunteers and employ 35 professional Field Officers who visit people in their homes providing information and education, act as advocates arranging extra assistance where needed, as well as co-ordinating exercise classes and social activities.

The organisation also has a special interest group called Upbeat for people with young onset Parkinson's.

Parkinson's affects 1 person in every 500 - over 8,000 New Zealanders.
"While being more common in those over 65, the condition also affects people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s," said Ms O'Sullivan. "As we live longer it means more people in the community will be living with Parkinson's or will know someone who is affected."

Parkinson's disease is a slowly progressive condition which occurs when insufficient quantities of the chemical dopamine are produced by the brain. This causes many changes in the body's ability to initiate movement and can affect balance and coordination. Symptoms vary in individuals but the main ones are tremor, slowness of movement and rigidity.

Learning to pace yourself, prioritising goals and making timely use of physical, occupational and speech therapy can be beneficial.

Exercise can make all the difference to how you enjoy life; maintain mobility and independence. Maintaining a positive attitude is one of the healthiest things you can do in life, particularly for those people living with Parkinson's.

Although there is no cure yet, with support, encouragement and a positive attitude people with Parkinson's can lead active lives for many years. The main form of treatment is medication, and there's a lot of research going on both in New Zealand and overseas to find a cure.

Living with Parkinson's can be difficult for people with Parkinson's, their families and carers. Ms O'Sullivan said, "Imagine not being able to smile at a friend or hug your child, and permanently feeling exhausted. Imagine visibly shaking and being unable to pick up a cup of coffee. This is what life with Parkinson's can be like some days."

People with Parkinson's continue to think the same way, but can be slow to react, have difficulty communicating and can appear unresponsive. A lack of understanding from people around them often adds to the distress.

Parkinsons New Zealand would like people to think before commenting when someone is holding up a queue or doesn't respond to a question - "perhaps that person has Parkinson's".

There are things that people with Parkinson's can do to dramatically increase their quality of life by making some practices part of their daily routine. Ms O'Sullivan said, "Regular exercise, being part of a support group, maintaining a healthy diet and having accurate information about Parkinson's are just some of the things people might consider.

"Working together with our Parkinson's Field Officers and divisions people can ensure that they are managing their condition in the best possible way."


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