Tag Archives: therapy

Parkinson’s Disease and physical activity

Parkinson’s disease is a disorder of the central nervous system that slowly leads to almost total loss of motor function. At later stages, it can lead to dementia. The ultimate cause of this disease is not known, though genetics and exposure to toxins appears to play an important role. The proximate cause appears to be an accumulation of proteins in certain neurons, and lack of dopamine in the parts of the brain responsible for movement. “The discovery of dopamine deficiency in the parkinsonian brain” by Dr. O. Hornykiewicz gives a detailed account of how scientists unearthed the link between dopamine deficiency and Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s disease is currently incurable, but it can be treated in its early stages by drugs and other interventions. As time goes by, and the disease progresses, these drugs become less effective. At more advanced stages, doctors may implant electrodes in the brain to provide “deep brain stimulation”, but not everyone responds well to such treatments.

Placement of an electrode into the brain. From Wikipedia.

Placement of an electrode into the brain. From Wikipedia.

There are of course other, less invasive ways to stimulate the brain to slow down the progression of the disease. According to research done by Rose MH, L√łkkegaard A, Sonne-Holm S, Jensen BR, at the University of Copenhagen, high-intensity locomotor training can greatly improve Parkinson’s symptoms. Similar research conducted by Cakit BD, Saracoglu M, Genc H, Erdem HR, Inan L., at Ankara Education and Research Hospital, Turkey, show treadmill training can improve mobility in Parkinson’s patients, and reduce their fear of falling.

So it appears that regular exercise in the early stages of Parkinson’s can slow down the disease’s progression, with or without medication. David H. Blatt, M.D., who is himself a Parkinson’s sufferer and runs the website, Exerciseforparkinsons.com, recommends regular exercise to treat Parkinson’s, especially learning how to juggle. In his own words:

I believe that by practicing juggling I have substantially slowed the progression of my Parkinson’s disease. Juggling stimulates the brain – it forces the brain to quickly process complex, sensory input and then it forces the brain to direct muscles to move quickly in a complex, coordinated manner.

He has many inspiring videos on his website which demonstrate the benefits of his approach. Juggling and exercise may prevent other neurological conditions besides Parkinson’s, as my previous post demonstrated. I would love to see some studies to see if and how juggling helps Parkinson’s patients. As time goes by, the list of benefits of juggling and exercise in general continues to grow.

How I got into joggling

I am often asked why and when I started joggling, among many other questions, and here’s the answer:

I have only been joggling for about a year and a half and juggling for a little while longer. The main reason I started juggling and joggling soon after was because I was in a nasty car accident about 2 years ago. Besides breaking my right hand(one of the metacarpal bones), my left leg was badly bruised, and I had trouble walking. Luckily I spent only a day in the hospital, and my right hand was in a cast for a month.

As soon as the ugly cast came off when my bones had healed, my right(dominant) hand was extremely weak and near useless for several days. I did the rehabilitation exercises(submerging my hand in hot water for 10 minutes, closing and opening a fist) the doctor told me to do every day, and slowly regained my strength but still had little dexterity.

After a few months of this, my hand was mostly back to normal, but I felt I didn’t have the same hand and arm coordination I had before the accident. I was already running again(I’ve been a runner since an early age), but this was becoming increasingly boring. Running had become boring to me before the accident, though I still did it. So I decided to learn how to juggle. It took me weeks due to my poor coordination, but after about a month and a half, I was proficient with the 3 ball cascade. I juggled with lacrosse balls, since they are easily available where I live.

Even before becoming proficient with juggling a 3 ball cascade while stationary, I tried to joggle with 3 balls since it is more time efficient(why run and juggle separately if I can do them at the same time?), but the results were disastrous. So I started “joggling” only 2 balls, and this came easy to me. This isn’t real joggling or even juggling, but it was something to build from.

The transition to 3 ball joggling was difficult. I practiced almost every day for 1 to 2 hours, dropping balls very frequently. Eventually after several months of practice, I could joggle for a mile without dropping any balls or tripping and falling. Then 2 miles. Then 3, while increasing my speed. These days, I am capable of joggling for 5 miles without any drops, though I don’t do this very frequently. I trip so rarely, it surprises even me. One important limiting factor in the early stages of learning to joggle is how exhausting it is; it’s significantly more tiring than mere running, but soon enough you will adapt.

I often do juggling tricks while joggling, twirling around, leaping up on benches and trying to joggle faster, so I do drop balls just about every time I go out to joggle for an hour. I also joggle at about the same speed I would run at if I were not juggling 3 balls, so it isn’t a hindrance to having a good running speed. In fact, since joggling absolutely requires good form and flawless posture, it is possible it is helping me run a little faster – this makes it excellent cross-training for runners and other athletes.

There is still some room for improvement, like not dropping while doing tricks, or when dealing with distractions and crossing busy roads, but I have more than compensated for any loss in coordination due to the accident, and running is a lot more fun than it used to be. I can’t joggle or juggle with 5 balls yet, but I am working on it. Juggling and joggling become boring unless you’re challenging yourself.

If I can joggle, a self-confessed total clutz, a person with little natural athletic ability, who only learned how to juggle at the age of 30 who was a lousy baseball and soccer player as a child, I believe many more people can do it. It just takes a lot of practice.