The neurodegenerative condition Parkinson’s disease affects almost a million Americans, including the actor Michael J. Fox, boxer Muhammad Ali and former Attorney General Janet Reno. As many as 60,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. The condition is caused by damage to dopamine-producing cells in the brain. Scientists don’t know what causes this damage, though a protein called RGS4 has been implicated, and other studies are looking at a possible genetic factor.
There is no cure, so doctors focus on managing symptoms, especially the loss of motor control. Now researchers are learning more and more about possible treatments for the tremors associated with Parkinson’s. Weight training has been shown to help slow the loss of motor control in many patients. Tai chi also appears to have beneficial effects.
Scientists at the University of Illinois said that weight training exercises done for an hour twice a week showed improvement in symptoms right away. This improvement lasted more than two years. Patients at all stages of the condition benefited in the study.
Another exercise regiment that helps Parkinson’s patients is the Chinese style tai chi. This style focuses on gentle, flowing movement. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore say it has great potential as a treatment.
There is even some indication that exercise not only benefits patients directly, but can help boost the effectiveness of medications and other forms of treatment. While both weight training and tai chi help most patients, weight training is specifically good for stiffness, while tai chi especially helps with balance.