A marine biologist living in Maryland at the time of his diagnosis, Bill Van Heukelem faced the usual progression of Parkinson’s symptoms, from tremors to rigid muscles. Earlier this year, he heard about a program called Exercise4BrainChange through the NeuroFitNetworks, Tucson, Ariz.

Based on the theory that specific exercise could help the brain slow the progression of Parkinson’s, the program educates PTs and trainers around the country. 

After a weeklong Exercise4BrainChange retreat in May, Van Heukelem came back with better posture, and a steadier gait. He now walks at least 30 minutes a day using walking sticks.

Exercise4BrainChange was created by Becky Farley, a PT and neuroscientist from Tucson. Farley said at one time, doctors and scientists believed that exercise offered little help for Parkinson’s sufferers.

Scientists from the Harvard School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh, and University of Southern California found in studies that exercise can actually slow the progression of the disease. "Intensive exercise can help people with PD walk and move more normally, and research is beginning to reveal how it reconditions the underlying brain circuits,” researchers say.

Farley said specific exercise helps to improve neuroplasticity of the brain, enhancing the brain’s ability to reorganize itself and form new neuro-connections. "Exercise also helps the brain to utilize the dopamine in the Parkinson’s brain more efficiently," she said.

The problem is that little infrastructure exists for Parkinson’s patients. In Tucson, the NeuroFitNetworks has established gyms where Parkinson’s patients can develop exercise programs and work out with other Parkinson’s patients. Elsewhere, such facilities don’t exist. “We are looking for sites. We would like to partner with hospitals,” she said.

[Source: Rapid City Journal]