Does an Exercise Lifestyle Before Parkinson’s Onset Affect Progression?

Does an Exercise Lifestyle Before Parkinson’s Onset Affect Progression?
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 “When it comes to eating right and exercising, there is no ‘I’ll start tomorrow.’ Tomorrow is disease.” –V.L. Allineare

In December, I asked members of the Parkinson’s News Today Forums if anyone was an athlete prior to their diagnosis. By “athlete,” I mean a recreational athlete who consistently trains and challenges themselves, not elite or Olympic-caliber athletes.

The benefits of exercise for people already diagnosed with Parkinson’s are well-known, but I’ve been wondering whether an active lifestyle before disease onset makes a difference in the rate of symptom progression. Could consistent exercise before Parkinson’s onset be an investment in an individual’s future quality of life?

Food for thought

The majority of forum respondents stated that they exercised for much of their adult life and continue to do so post-diagnosis — some of them quite vigorously. Many said their Parkinson’s progression is slow. Is that because of their current exercise regimen, their pre-diagnosis activity levels, or a combination of both?

One forum respondent theorized that his lifelong commitment to exercise may have delayed Parkinson’s onset until his early 60s.

A former soldier who’s continued training post-diagnosis said his medical team observed that his progression is slower than the roughly 2,000 Parkinson’s patients they see. He said they believe their fittest patients have the slowest rate of progression.

Noticeable pros and cons of pre-diagnosis exercise

My pre-diagnosis training regimen consisted of:

  • Dancing and training like a professional for 15 to 20 hours per week
  • Weight training two to three times per week
  • Cardio, such as cycling, spinning, heavy bag classes, or race walking three to five times per week

Unfortunately, due to aging and Parkinson’s, my current exercise routine is nowhere close to that.

For me, the only downside to my pre-diagnosis exercise lifestyle has been that I am much more aware of what I’ve lost to this disease. However, the traits developed from years of training far outweigh that downside: My past active lifestyle has aided in retaining muscle memory, the self-discipline to get myself off the couch so I can push through workouts, and the ability to go on “autopilot” when feeling unmotivated.

Exercise is medicine

The forum discussion and my own life experience have convinced me that both pre- and post-diagnosis exercise lifestyles go a long way in staving off Parkinson’s progression. As one responder noted, “In summary, based on the experience of the participants in this thread, it seems there might be a correlation between a person’s pre-PD exercise regimen and delayed onset and/or slower progression of PD.”

Unfortunately, it appears exercise as a lifestyle does not fully prevent Parkinson’s. The good news is that I don’t see any real negatives to safe exercise, pre- or post-diagnosis. Now, if only I could eliminate other symptoms like fatigue, apathy, and lack of motivation …

As if you needed another reason to exercise consistently.

What have you got to lose?

“Those who think they have no time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness.” –Edward Stanley

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Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.

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10 comments

  1. I have always been a casual athlete. Love the weights and have done speed walking and sprints for years prior to my diagnosis. I believe it helped delay the disease and is helping me delay progression. Keep moving!

  2. Luis M. Yanez says:

    I used to be a competitive runner and rower all the way back to the ROME Olympics 1960. I am now 76 years old and was diagnosed with PD about 2 years ago. My only symptom was my left hand tremor and now I have tremor in both hand some times. I have replaced my competitive training 2-3 hours 5-6 times per week with 1 & 1/2 hours 4-5 days per week. I don’t row any more full pressure sprints. I just do not have the energy but still have the motivation.
    I have noticed that my body strength is declining but have not taken any medication jet.

    • Jean Mellano says:

      Luis,
      It sounds as though you are still doing a vigorous workout regimen. We are also fighting the effects of aging (I am 66), and growing old teamed up with PD can really do a number on us. Good for you not having to take the meds. I imagine your motivation comes from your years of olympic training and that PD cannot rob you of that.

  3. Mike Scott says:

    Dear Jean,

    One thing that has greatly helped me, is that my incredible wife, who decided that it was time for her to retire from a very profitable and joyful carrier as an Interior Designer after I was diagnosed.

    Now I no longer go to the gym alone, nor do I hike or golf or fly fish alone. Luckily for me, she asked our Neurologist all of the important questions and realizing that this disease might reduce, what has been a wonderful life of World travel and great adventures and unending love, she decided that we were not going to spend one more day of our lives apart!

    For a once Dirt poor kid who couldn’t buy good luck, I got very lucky when my “Unseen Angel”, who up until Loretta, had only reassured me that “I was not going to die” during more than a few combat operations, decided that we should meet some 37 years ago.

    It is hard to describe how reinforcing her decision has been for me, as this damned disease has tried to take my body that was still strong and mtn. fit even onto my early 70’s.

    Now as my Loretta is prone to say, “Should that fat lady come looking for my guy, she better be ready for a fist fight”!

    Sometimes a guy just gets lucky, aye?😊

    Mike

    • Jean Mellano says:

      Mike
      Your comments had me all teary eyed. Loretta sounds like a wonderful person to have in your life. We all need a “Loretta” in our lives. I am so happy you found your soul mate and that you both can fight this disease shoulder to shoulder..

  4. David says:

    I was diagnosed three years ago at 42. At the time I was planning to retire at 55 and backpack the Appalachian trail. I took vacations to solo backpack 100 mile sections of the trail in Maine and New Hampshire. In addition I did road biking, weightlifting and cross country skiing. At the end of a long day of backpacking I would be shaking all over which I attributed to exhaustion and low blood sugar. My job involved managing computer systems at two county nursing homes. I began to notice a change in the sound my feet made when they hit the floor. I also noticed that my right arm seemed to be in my way all the time. I also developed a uncontrollable shaking in my right leg. I was recommended by the nursing staff to see a doctor. They knew the symptoms of Parkinson’s and feared the diagnosis. This past summer I was still dayhiking with a friend who is a nurse and she has a family member with Parkinsons. This fall I started to experience tremors in all four limbs and difficulty with walking. With the recent progression I have stopped working. I have been working with stretching to loosen up before walking and it seems to be helping. My next step is to slowly try and resume my other activities.

    • Jean Mellano says:

      David, thanks for sharing your story. Movement is so key for helping us retain quality of life. I hope you will be able to resume your other exercise activities soon. It sound as though you are still motivated to keep moving and I believe that is half the battle. Good luck.

  5. Chuck Graham says:

    I have been consistently boxing for 29 years before I was diagnosed with Young Parkinson’s Disease, 7 years ago in 2013. I was 53 years old at the time.

    My story was pretty dramatic when I was diagnosed with PD.
    I ended up in the emergency room, thinking I had a stroke, not able to move my legs. Multiple MRI’s and other procedures were performed. I spent 4 days in the hospital being diagnosed with PD. I responded very well to to medication, Sinemet (Carbidopa Levodopa) allowing me to get movement back in my legs and coming home using a walker. I went to outpatient therapy, graduating to a cane and 6 weeks later walking by myself. I gradually got back to my boxing and I’m now stronger, faster, and have more endurance than I had before. God has truely blessed me allowing me to train my fellow Parkinson friends at “Rock Steady Boxing” for His purpose. I am now a certified “Rock Steady Boxing Coach”, a certified “Boxing Fitness Coach”, and certified “USA Boxing Coach” now.

    I box consistently 4 times week for 2 hours and do high intensity interval training twice a week before and after my diagnoses, I only take the lowest dose of “Sinemet” and my symptoms are very minor at this point in my life. My Neurologist says, “You are a living example of what boxing can do to slow down the progress of Parkinson’s Disease.”

    I volunteer 3 days a week, coaching and training PWP at the Rock Steady affiliate in Virginia Beach, VA. I train these wonderful people the way I would train my own boxers. As one of my students said, ” Now I’m really learning how to box!”
    I have about 70 boxers I train; they are all special and I love them all! They are all warriors in my eyes, and I am one of them. They know we are all in this together.

    Thanks for allowing me to share my story with you.
    Chuck Graham

    • Jean Mellano says:

      Wow Chuck, thanks for sharing your wonderful story of hope, I too am a certified RSB coach, however I must focus on my own health so I do not teach. I am grateful I can take 2 classes a weekalypthiugh my intensity is not that great due to my fatigue. I truly believe RSB is the best thing to ever happen to PwP. Fight back!!!

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