The People's Perspective on Medicine

Show 1090: How Intense Exercise Benefits Parkinson Patients

Forced or intense exercise can effectively ease many symptoms of Parkinson's disease. Others also benefit from high intensity interval training.
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How Intense Exercise Benefits Parkinson Patients

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Parkinson’s disease makes it difficult for people to move. In addition to tremors or twitches, people with Parkinson’s often feel stiff and find it difficult to walk easily. Their handwriting shrinks, and their voice may become hoarse or soft.

How Intense Exercise Affects Symptoms:

While there are medications to treat Parkinson’s disease, recent research suggests that patients with this condition can benefit greatly from forced exercise: that is, exercising quite a bit faster and harder than they normally would choose. Dr. Jay Alberts tells us how he discovered these benefits on a tandem bike ride with a patient. Then he describes his research and its implications. Patients doing forced intense exercise had about 30 percent improvement in their symptoms compared to those doing voluntary exercise.

Is Intense Exercise Practical?

You’ll learn about a program at the YMCA that is designed to provide forced exercise for people with Parkinson’s disease. Kathy Helmuth explains how she and her colleagues have implemented the program at the Sarasota, FL, YMCA.

How Do the Rest of Us Benefit from Intense Exercise?

People with Parkinson’s disease are not the only ones to reap unexpected benefits from intense exercise. Dr. Jordan Metzl tells us about high intensity interval training and how it affects the brain as well as the muscles. In his popular group training in New York City, participants have a huge range of ages and fitness, and all have fun and improve their health.

This Week’s Guests:

Jay Alberts, PhD, is Vice Chair of Innovations within the Neurological Institute and researcher in the Dept. of Biomedical Engineering of the Cleveland Clinic. He has been leading the Pedaling for Parkinson’s Program and research for 15 years and is successfully translating observations in the field to the laboratory and now to the larger community of PD patients.

His articles have been published in Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews (Oct. 2011);  IEEE Transactions on Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering (May 2013); Brain Connectivity (2013); BMC Neurology (Apr. 24, 2015); Parkinson’s Disease (Nov. 23, 2016); International Journal of Exercise Science (Jan. 1, 2017); and Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry (June 12, 2017).

Kathy Helmuth, RN, is the co-creator of the Parkinson’s Cycling Coach Training program. She is a wellness professional at the Sarasota, Florida, YMCA. The photograph is of Kathy Helmuth and two participants in the program.

Jordan D. Metzl, MD, is a nationally recognized sports medicine physician, best selling author, and fitness instructor who practices at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.

Dr. Metzl is putting his ideas into practice as he pioneers the link between the worlds of medicine and fitness to promote health. He created the IronStrength community fitness program which provides free fitness classes tor thousands of New Yorkers each year to promote activity and wellness and is teaching other physicians around the world to do the same.

Dr. Metzl has written many books, including his most recent, Dr. Jordan Metzl’s Workout Prescription: 10, 20 & 30-Minute High-Intensity Interval Training Workouts for Every Fitness Level.

Listen to the Podcast:

The podcast of this program will be available the Monday after the broadcast date. The show can be streamed online from this site and podcasts can be downloaded for free. CDs may be purchased at any time after broadcast for $9.99.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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My husband’s employer requires having biometrics (blood pressure, weight, blood sugar, cholesterol) done every year to get a reduced rate on their health insurance rates. My husband pays higher rates because he will not participate. However, he bikes 7 days a week and rarely goes to the doctor. Yet, many of those who do participate never seem to change their health habits, but they are paying less for their health insurance. I find this extremely unfair.

it would seem to me that your husband’s participation will give him a benchmark from which to measure future health indicators and enable his health providers to use his history as an example for others IF his exercise does indeed put him in a positive category. He evidently does not care to use his exercise routine as good examples for others —- rather selfish? Or is his health all that good?

True having time to exercise for young families is a challenge. We are retired, (now 90) and far from wealthy, but the time to go to the WMCA daily for one hour exercise programs. Social security is sufficient for our basic needs by by shopping for the best deal on food, farmers markets, and clothing at the Salvation army stores. The YMCA is open from 6:30 AM to about 9 PM. We see many young families bring their children into Child care and then get a little exercise themselves. Also here there are hiking clubs with sort day hikes on weekends, and the children come along. Then there are sidewalks for a short walk or going to the grocery store instead of the car. Good luck.. Healthy young people are the future of this country..

After being diagnosed with PD in 2007, I started dancing–to reclaim the fluid motion that PD was taking away. I also read the research articles that supported “exercise-induced neuroplasticity, the mechanism by which exercise was thought to help the brain adapt to PD. I also did treadmill, took a BIG course, exercised on a stationary bike, and danced.

My symptoms did not noticeably progress for ten years. Only now, after I got lazy and stopped exercising, did my symptoms worsen. So I am back to biking, ballet and soon–tai chi.

It amazes me, as you go on about incentives to exercise, that you don’t address the biggest barrier to getting involved in regular fitness: TIME. If you commute an hour each way, work 50 hours a week, make dinner, do chores, take care of the kids. when do you have time? Who are these people of leisure?

There’s a direct correlation between wealth and fitness.

I think, it is so wrong for you to charge for various segments or shows. So many that need your wisdom, can not pay. What amazes me, Science Friday only ask for contributions. I hated to see WFAE drop you’ll, but had to agree!

Also, if you had a podcast for free, many more may order, various segments and pay. But the podcast would give some, the opportunity to catch your excellent show. Then many would order
Segments, that interest or meet there various needs.


Our show is free! There are a number of ways listeners can access it at zero cost. First, you can always go to the website and stream the audio. Just click on the green arrow at the top of the page. Second, you can download the mp3 file for free on the Monday after the show. There is absolutely no cost. Finally, you can go to iTunes or whatever your favorite podcasting program may be and download the podcast of the show for free. We have never charged for the podcast of our radio show, so we are a little puzzled by your comment. Some people prefer a CD and we do charge for that because it takes time, equipment and postage to mail it. We hope that clarifies the free access to The People’s Pharmacy radio show.

My husband has been in a Rock Steady Boxing program for over a year. A year ago, he didn’t have interest in anything except going out to eat. And his skin color was an ashen gray.

This year his skin color is healthy looking. He has lost about 20 pounds And LOVES his Rock Steady Boxing. One day, our son was not ready to leave when dad decided it was time (Of course, son had rushed home from work and was showering to take dad) so dear old dad said, “I’ll be waiting outside!” Something that would never have happened before.

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