Last week, I went to a talk by Becky Farley, PhD, MS, PT, sponsored by Parkinson Society BC. The topic was “EXERCISE AS MEDICINE” and she discussed some of the work she does at her Parkinson Wellness Recovery gym in Tuscon, Arizona.
About Dr. Becky Farley
Becky became involved in Parkinson’s disease during her post-doctoral work when she investigated the muscle activation deficits underlying bradykinesia in people with PD. She developed the LSVT® BIG exercise approach and standardized training to targets the PD symptoms of slow/small movements bradykinesia/hypokinesia.
The aim of Becky’s program is to use exercise as a physiological tool to optimize brain function (i.e. neuroplasticity) and health. Her program is based on: early intervention, continuous access and research-based exercise programs. PWR! also trains clinicians and fitness professional with techniques to focus on PD-specific exercise.
Her exercise tips:
- “start from a position of power!”. Your body needs to be ready, your brain needs to be focused and the task needs to feel important (or fun!) for change to occur. Make your exercise engaging!
- Use equipment (i.e. bungees, ropes, balance boards, harnesses) to get the experience of the full movement safely (especially in people with PD who have difficulty balancing etc.), then start to take some of those supports away as you progress and apply that experience to everyday movements!
- For people with PD, especially those with dyskinesias – seek exercises that gain core stability
- Sensory feedback – i.e. pacing, metronome, music – can help push you to exercise faster, harder and with more smooth movements
- “Prime” your body by starting your exercise program with progressive aerobic training, then follow up with skill acquisition-type exercises.
- Focus not only on increasing muscle mass, but want to increase useable muscle and focus on functional movements in your exercises… not just “curls for the girls” but include things like:
- lateral rotations, cross-body, sequential movements, extensions, quick position changes, side-to-side weight shifting)
How does exercise help brain function in Parkinson’s?
Becky also presented some of the latest research on the benefits of exercise on brain function.
Exercise can help increase brain volume, improving working memory and attention. Also, it increases blood vessels and leads to more neurotrophic (growth) factors (like “gatorade” for the brain!) and a more supportive environment for neurons. Exercise also increases the redundancy in brain synapses. Redundancy is good! If you have some synapses that aren’t working, you will have back ups to replace them!
Specifically in PD, research tells us that exercise increases survival rate, increases physical functional ability, and improves cognition! It can help “repair” the dopamine system in early/moderate stages of PD by increasing dopamine D2 receptors and helping your brain make better use of remaining dopamine.
some references of interest:
“How might physical activity benefit patients with Parkinson disease?” Speelman, Nature Reviews, 2011
“Effectiveness of intensive inpatient rehabilitation treatment on disease progression in parkinsonian patients” Giuseppe et al., Neurorehabil Neural Repair, 2012
“Does vigorous exercise have a neuroprotective effect in Parkinson disease?” Ahlskog Je, Neurology, 2011
It was a great talk, and I feel lucky to have been there and met with her. I’m also excited to hear her thoughts on how yoga can fit within this model…