Why we should dance for Parkinson's disease

Dancing for Parkinson's: why exercise is key to fighting the disease

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Dancing can be a great choice because it brings people together in a happy social event.

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Parkinson's disease is more common than most people think, affecting more than 100,000 Australians.

You probably know somebody with "the shaking palsy", because at least one in every 100 people over the age of 75 years has the disease. However, it can also affect those as young as 40.

Tremor of the hands, slow movements, freezing of footsteps, tiny handwriting, poor balance, a soft voice or loss of facial expression are some of the symptoms, and these vary for each individual.

Currently, there is no cure for Parkinson's disease. The severity of these symptoms can be managed with medication - and deep brain stimulation surgery is also an option for a small number of people.

Yet for both of these options, and other therapies, the disease continues to progress.

Given people typically live with Parkinson's disease for 25 years or more, is there anything else sufferers can do to live long and strong? The answer is, quite simply, exercise. It's often said that exercise is medicine. If we could take exercise as seriously as prescriptions for pills, people would benefit.

And, in this case, the research evidence is particularly clear; exercise helps fight Parkinson's disease and there is emerging evidence that it might slow the rate of disease progression.

Now, for someone with a chronic disease, it might seem like regular exercise is all but impossible to achieve.

But there are so many forms of exercise out there, and activities can be modified to suit symptoms and energy levels.

Take dancing, for example. Dancing can be a great choice because it brings people together in a happy social event.

People can move to their favourite music and learn new motor skills while sitting or standing, with or without a partner. Dancing is fun and engaging - some even say it's addictive.

If dancing is not your thing, then maybe think about walking, yoga, golf, tennis, boxing exercises or going to the gym or pool. Even vigorous housework or gardening can be beneficial.

Of course, check with your doctor before you start any new exercise, to make sure that it's safe for you.

A registered physiotherapist or exercise scientist can also guide you.

Try different exercises, mix and match and give it a go. The main thing is to keep moving, every day.

Professor Meg Morris is a physiotherapist and researcher in Allied Health at La Trobe University and Healthscope, and works in partnership with Parkinson's Victoria.

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