Reflections on World Parkinson Congress 2016

This was my first time attending the World Parkinson Congress. I suppose that is understandable considering that the congress is held every 3 years, and it has only been 2-1/2 years since my diagnosis. Prior to that, PD was not on my radar. As a congress newbie PwP, I thought I would share a few of my thoughts and “take-aways” from the congress, in no particular order of importance or relevance.

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Boxing for Parkinson’s Disease is a Life Changer

boxingmanWhile there are great anecdotal reports and TV stories about boxing programs for Parkinson’s Disease,particularly Rock Steady Boxing, I thought it would be interesting to learn whether or not these results have been quantitatively measured. Stephanie Combs-Miller, a professor at the University of Indianapolis Krannert School of Physical Therapy and director of research for the University’s College of Health Sciences, has been studying the effectiveness of boxing programs for Parkinson’s Disease for 9 years.

In 2011, her team published a study in the Journal of the American Physical Therapy Association titled “Boxing Training for Patients With Parkinson Disease: A Case Series” (available on-line at It was a very limited study with six patients with idiopathic PD attending 24 to 36 boxing training sessions for 12 weeks, with the option of continuing the training for an additional 24 weeks. Very specific motor tests were assessed at regular intervals:

The outcome measures were the Functional Reach Test, Berg Balance Scale, Activities-specific Balance Confidence Scale, Timed “Up & Go” Test, Six-Minute Walk Test, gait speed, cadence, stride length, step width, activities of daily living and motor examination subscales of the Unified Parkinson Disease Rating Scale, and Parkinson Disease Quality of Life Scale.

I’d encourage reading the report for more details on these criteria. Key observations:

All 6 patients in this case series showed improvements on at least 5 of the 12 outcome measures over the baseline at the 12-week test. Except for patient 6, all patients showed improvements in every outcome category, including balance, gait, disability, and quality of life.

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Study: Weight Training Improves Parkinson’s Disease Symptoms

latpulldownI’ve been working hard to regain the strength in my right arm that Parkinson’s took away from me. I’m making progress. Weight training is a key ingredient in these efforts. It is important to stress that vigorous exercise is not all about cardio, in fact, weight training is a key component.

More specifically, I’m referring to weight training as a progressive resistance exercise. This is a strength training method in which the load is gradually increased to allow muscles to adapt. The body adapts to exercise and needs to be constantly challenged in order to continue to grow and change. Essentially, this is the same basic concept we talk about with vigorous exercise, always pushing your limits.

As time progresses, you’re increasing the weight, increasing the number of repetitions between rests, increasing the number of sets, and/or adding additional exercises to target complimentary muscles.

Without a doubt, PD (and aging in general) makes this harder to achieve. But every small increase confirms that you’re getting stronger. And over time, those small increases can add up to something significant.

A few years ago, Dr. Daniel Corcos, with the University of Illinois at Chicago, led a 2 year randomized controlled trial of Parkinson’s which compared the effects of weight training vs. more general flexibility, strength and balance exercises. The conclusions were clear:

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Exercise is the Best Medicine

This web site is a work in progress. Eventually, I hope the Parkinson FIT website will become a resource and community dedicated to exercise, fitness and wellness for people with Parkinson’s Disease.

Today, it is mostly a blog, collecting information of interest to the website’s founder. Maintaining this website helps keep me inspired to fight Parkinson’s, and hopefully it can help inspire others.

Like many of you, ever since I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, I’ve spent countless hours reviewing studies and research. There are some great ideas and great theories out there, and I remain hopeful that a cure can be found.

But if you study through the available research, especially the research involving humans, one trend is clear: For Parkinson’s Disease, Exercise is the Best Medicine. And it is available today, without a prescription.

I believe that vigorous exercise can help with Parkinson’s symptoms, and will help me live more years with an active lifestyle. There is growing evidence that exercise can affect more than just the symptoms, but that it can also slow down or halt the progression of PD.

Optimistic Best Case Scenario: Exercise promotes BDNF (Brain-derived neurotrophic factor) and neurogenesis creates new neurons in the PD effected regions. Or exercise encourages neuroplasticity and the brain creates new pathways to recover some lost functionality.

Reasonable Moderate Case Scenario: Exercise is neuroprotective and extends the life of remaining dopamine producing cells in the substantia nigra. Studies show an increase in GDNF (glial-derived neurotrophic factor), which reduces the vulnerability of remaining dopamine neurons to damage.

Pessimistic Worst Case Scenario: Exercise strengthens the muscles that Parkinson’s Disease weakens, preserving your ability to lead an active lifestyle. Exercise can strengthen balance and aid in balance recovery, preventing falls.

I created this website to share what I’ve learned and what I am learning, and to learn and share information and community with others.

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