2017 marks 200 years since James Parkinson’s essay describing the Shaking Palsy. It would be more than 40 years, long after his death, that the disease would be known as Parkinson’s disease (PD). For those interested a timeline of interesting milestones related to PD from 1817 to 2016 check out this recent blog article: Milestones in Parkinson’s Research and Discovery.
There are several aspects of the history of PD that I find interesting.
First, most medications only manage the symptoms of the disease and do not affect disease progression.
Second, the drug Levadopa, that can provide years of relief to PD victims, was only approved by the FDA in 1970. Prior to that there was little one could do except watch the progress of the debilitating disease.
Third, it has only been in the last 8 to 10 years, roughly the period of time that I have been affected by the symptoms of PD, that there has been scientific evidence of a neuroprotective effect from exercise. In other words, there is solid evidence that exercise can slow down the progression of PD. If you’re interested in reading one of the early papers showing the benefits of exercise in rats with induced PD, here is a link to a 2009 article: Exercise exerts neuroprotective effects on Parkinson’s disease model of rats.
In human’s with PD, there is a lot of recent evidence that various forms of vigorous exercise are good for managing symptoms and may actually slow PD progression. You don’t have to look hard to find exercise classes that have been tailored for people suffering from various levels of PD. I have seen PD versions of boxing, yoga, tai-chi, dancing, drumming (African Djembe and Japanese Taiko) and, of course, cycling.
It’s been 200 years since Parkinson’s disease was first described and there is still no cure. In Parkinson’s time it would have been difficult knowing what was to follow as the disease progressed. The advent of Levodopa in the 1970s would have provided some hope to PD sufferers though the downward progression remained inevitable.
The new revolution in exercise as a treatment for PD is to me, a huge source for hope. Here is a treatment that I have control over and that I can take in a dose of my choosing that not only alleviates symptoms but also, the experts tell me, may slow down the disease progression. I may not live to see a cure for PD but maybe I have a chance of making my remaining years significantly more enjoyable than they would have been 200 years ago.