It is estimated that between 500,000 and 1.5 million Americans live with Parkinson’s Disease for which there is no cure nor treatment to stop its progression. Many know it as the disease that actor Michael J. Fox is battling.
Parkinson’s disease is has the second highest incidence among neurological disorders after Alzheimer’s Disease. Symptoms include trembling in hands, arms, legs, jaw, and face; stiffness of the limbs and trunk; slowness of movement; and impaired balance and coordination. As these symptoms become more pronounced, patients may have difficulty walking, talking, or completing other simple tasks. As the disease progresses, the shaking, or tremor, which affects the majority of people with PD may begin to interfere with daily activities. Medications may help control some things, like tremors, but many drugs are not as good at helping symptoms of Parkinson’s disease that affect balance and walking.
However, new studies indicate that exercise may be a powerful tool in the battle against Parkinson’s. Emerging research shows that exercise improves strength, balance, coordination and flexibility and some studies show exercise may even slow the progression of the disease. Innovative programs are using exercise to help participants with PD overcome some of the most common difficulties of the disease like stiffness, slowness of movement and loss of balance.
Yoga, Tai Chi, and golf are among the sports particularly beneficial to people with Parkinson’s because each involves a great deal of balance, coordination, and rotation.
Yoga offers improves physical condition by increasing flexibility and strength and improving balance. This can result in fewer muscle cramps, deeper, easier breathing and better sleeping for those battling the symptoms of Parkinson’s.
Tai chi guides the body through gentle, flowing poses. It may be another effective therapy for improving a person’s ability to walk, move steadily, and balance, thereby reducing the risk of falls.
In one recent study, doctors found that after six months, people who had been taking tai chi were able to lean farther forward or backward without stumbling or falling compared to those who had been doing resistance training or stretching. They were also better able to smoothly direct their movements and take longer strides.
This is good news. Not only does this offer new hope to Parkinson’s patients, but it offers hope that is inexpensive and easily accessible. Yoga and Tai Chi do not require any special equipment and golf clubs can usually be rented. Nearly every community has organizations that offer Yoga and/or Tai Chi as well as golf. All of them are easily accessible by everyone so the majority of Parkinson’s patients can experience some relief of their symptoms.