The exercise benefit, explained

Exercise just works. I’ve often said that it seems to reset the brain at a fundamental, system-wide level, kind of like re-initializing a computer. 

Now researchers are starting to understand what happens inside the brain when we are pushed to perform at a higher level of exercise than we might normally engage in. From Medscape:

Patients with Parkinson’s disease (PD) who exercise on a stationary tandem bicycle with a healthy partner during a single 40-minute session experience a 35% improvement in motor function and increased brain activation similar to that found with levodopa treatment, new research shows.

The study, by researchers at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, found that maintaining a steady rate of 80 to 90 revolutions per minute (rpm) on the bicycle not only improved function in lower extremities but also in upper extremities.

I don’t want to reprint the entire article, but this quote resonated for me:

The researchers surmise that the exercise may facilitate central motor control processes in Parkinson’s patients. “For lack of a better word, we may be ‘overdriving’ the central nervous system by providing an increase in the quantity and quality of sensory information provided to the patient,” said Dr. Alberts.

Exercise Helps Everything

Jane Brody’s column this week pretty much nails it: No matter if you’ve got Parkinson’s, cancer, or are simply getting older, exercise is going to help you. 

“The single thing that comes close to a magic bullet, in terms of its strong and universal benefits, is exercise,” Frank Hu, epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health, said in the Harvard Magazine.

Study after study shows that moderate to vigorous exercise will help you. Haven’t been off the couch in a while? Get started, under the supervision of a personal trainer or physical therapist. Heart problems? Get busy — that’s the best way to pump oxygenated blood to where it’s needed. Depression? Exercise is arguably better than any drug, and it’s drug-free.

Please, read the article. It could save you life — and it will certainly improve the quality of it.

Treadmill, Exercise Helps Body and Mind

It’s long been said that exercise is vital to helping people with Parkinson’s. One bit of scientific evidence is a study published last fall that studied the effects on Parkinsonians of walking on a treadmill.

The objective: to see if gait and instability could be helped by walking regularly on a treadmill. After all, falling — or the fear of falling — can dramatically affect a patient’s quality of life. 

Treadmill training has long been used to help rehabilitate people after strokes and spinal cord injuries, in part because it’s easier to build up strength if one can use the treadmill’s rails for support.

The study involved nine patients walking on a motorized treadmill four times a week, 30 minutes at a time, for six weeks, under the close supervision of a physical therapist. The speed of the treadmill was reevaluated each week; patients started out at a relatively slow speed that was gradually boosted.

The benefits were significant, both in the short and long term. Mobility improved by the end of the six-week period, and the patients were all enthusiastic about continuing an exercise program. 

Several weeks after the study ended, patients were interviewed again. Not only were gait and mobility better than before the test, but their Parkinson’s rating scores were lower (better). Basically, everyone felt better, more confident, less likely to fall. Something about the rhythm, perhaps — which is echoed in the findings of other studies of the benefits of dancing and tai chi for Parkinsonians.

Bottom line: any exercise performed with rhythm and vigor is gonna help you feel better.