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Voices Of Diversity: Parkinson's Exercise

CEDAR RAPIDS/IOWA CITY, IA (CBS2/FOX28) - A new University of Iowa study could bring hope to those battling Parkinson's disease. The UI research suggests that walking may improve both the physical and mental symptoms of patients with Parkinson's.

It's important to note, the study was done with patients with mild to moderate Parkinson's disease without dementia. It found brisk walking, enough to break a sweat, improved mood and motor function by 15 percent. While the findings need to be confirmed with a randomized study and a control group, it's exactly what folks behind an exercise class in Cedar Rapids like to hear. Twice a week, Parkinson's patients and their families hit the gym, fighting for their quality of life.

The class, "Delay The Disease" instructed by Kris Cameron, a Certified Personal Trainer, is offered for free by the American Parkinson's Disease Association for patients and their families. It happens at Stonebridge Church on Cedar Rapids' SW side. The church offers their facilities to the Parkinson's Disease Association for a nominal fee. Cameron was inspired to get involved after watching her dad suffer from Parkinson's.

"There's no road map as far as what's going to happen," Sylvia Keeling said. Sylvia's husband, Joe, has had Parkinson's for six years.

No two cases of Parkinson's are alike. Some progress slowly, others more rapidly. Some people have more trouble with movement, some with speech, others with cognitive function. The folks in the Cedar Rapids exercise class hope exercise will help them all.

"I've seen tremendous improvement in some of the people that were further along with their Parkinson's disease than I am," John Krumbholz, the Chair of the Cedar Rapids Parkinson's Foundation said.

Like John, Joe is a believer in the program.

"I am able to do things I wasn't able to do before," he said.

Sylvia said that since Joe started the class, he's been able to stand right up from his chair. That's an activity that was very difficult before.

"He's a Cubs fan, which probably tells you a lot about him, the perpetual optimist," Sylvia explained about her husband's efforts to fight Parkinson's.

"It gives you an activity that's focused on things that Parkinson's will generally take away from you," Krumbholz added while describing the class. The class focuses on every day movements like buckling a seat belt, getting up from a car seat and standing from a chair. 

 Dr. Ergun UC, an Associate Professor of Neurology at the University of Iowa, published the July study that found a positive link between walking and improved health in Parkinson's patients. Yet, he cautions, more research needs to be done.

"No clear exercise program has been defined by strong evidence for patients with Parkinson's disease. So we need longer term, large sample size studies to define the best exercise," Uc said.

Uc explained that by the time a patient shows the physical symptoms of Parkinson's, they've already lost up to 75 percent of the dopamine in their brain.

"It's like you're losing a blue print," he said.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter or chemical that helps control behavior, mood and regulates movement and cognition. Exercise itself is thought to increase brain chemicals.

"Being a couch potato, cannot be recommended for anyone," Uc said. He emphasized that exercise needs to be tailored based on a Parkinson's patient's ability. Thus, what they do needs to be reviewed by a doctor for safety. He said what type of exercise, what intensity, what amount of exercise and the condition of the patient have a lot to do with the equation.

Folks in the "Delay The Disease" class believe that if there's a possibility exercise can improve their lives, they'll give it a try. For Joe and Sylvia, it's a workout best done together.

"I really need her, but she needs me too," Joe explained.

In Dec Dr. Uc plans to lead an effort by the Parkinson's Disease Foundation in New York  for a much larger study on exercise and Parkinson's Disease.
The goal of the Iowa State Chapter of the American Parkinson's Disease Association is to add a Parkinson's exercise class in every county in the state. They're about a third of a way to their goal.


To read the abstract of Dr. Uc's paper, click here

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