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