Exercise and Parkinson’s Disease

The role of exercise in Parkinson’s Disease (PD) has been controversial in the past. It was once thought to shorten the life expectancy of patients with PD. More recent research has reversed that idea. Dr. Norman Doidge tells us why in his book, The Brain’s Way of Healing. Basically, brain scientists have discovered in the last 20 years that the brain is able to generate and “train” new brain cells to a far greater degree than previously believed. The brain was thought to be finished with its growth and learning potential by the time a person was in their mid-twenties. New research shows that the brain generates new brain cells and connections by the thousands on a daily basis. We have learned that exercise can improve symptoms and substantially extend the life expectancy of PD patients.

John Peters in South Africa was diagnosed with PD by two very good neurologists in the early 1990s. An avid reader, Peters researched all he could find on PD, and he joined a walking group his wife had joined earlier for weight loss. He didn’t need weight loss, but by combining what he learned from all of this, he developed “conscious walking.” In this, he told his brain what he was doing with every step, and he was able to gradually extend his walking up to five miles daily. Other PD symptoms improved as long as he continued his “conscious walking” schedule.

Norman Doidge outlines evidence that in doing this, he was linking the neocortex to the area in the mid-brain involved with PD to reinforce its work. This continued as long as he told his brain what he was doing. The results were remarkable, not only for John Peters, but also for others with PD whom he taught. Yet if any failed to consciously tell the brain what they were doing, their walking slowly returned to the typical PD shuffling kind of gait.

I was so impressed with John Peters’ results that I have begun to do “conscious walking,” telling my brain what I’m doing with every step. We will see if this helps!