A physician opines in a recent editorial that physical therapy practices should incorporate aerobic exercise training and encourage fitness for patients with Parkinson’s disease.

In the editorial, published recently in JAMA Neurology, J. Eric Ahlskog, PhD, MD, a neurologist at Mayo Clinic, points to scientific studies that suggest that aerobic exercise helps enhance factors that can potentially have a protective effect on the brain, therefore possibly helping to slow down the progression of Parkinson’s disease.

For instance, Ahlskog states that aerobic exercise—“vigorous exercise, which makes you hot, sweaty and tired,” he says—helps maintain brain connections and counters brain shrinking from Parkinson’s disease as well as from brain aging, according to a media release from Mayo Clinic.

That doesn’t mean stretching or balance exercises are not helpful, according to Ahlskog. Those activities can help with Parkinson’s symptoms, such as rigid muscles, slowed movement, or impaired posture and balance.

And, though it may be difficult for individuals affected by Parkinson’s to initiate and maintain an aerobic exercise program, Ahlskog feels the expertise of one healthcare professional can help.

“That is where a physical therapist might serve a crucial role in helping to counter Parkinson’s disease progression,” Ahlskog states. “The physical therapist could identify the type of exercise that would appeal to the individual, initiate that plan, and serve as exercise coach.”

Individualized selection of aerobic exercise routines by the Parkinson’s-affected patient or client would provide a starting point for the program, as Ahlskog envisions it. He adds that all options for aerobic exercise should be considered, and rejects the idea of a one-size-fits-all exercise program.

“Such a program would necessarily start modestly for some but with therapist-guided advances and, sometimes, with tough love,” Ahlskog writes in the editorial.

Ahlskog, the author of The New Parkinson’s Disease Treatment Book, cautions Parkinson’s patients who are starting an aerobic exercise program to work with their doctors to optimize their medication, specifically carbidopa/levodopa. Once patients with Parkinson’s disease slow down, adequate carbidopa/levodopa is necessary to optimize quality of life and facilitate engagement in exercise, per the release.

[Sources: Mayo Clinic, Newswise, JAMA Neurology]