According to the National Parkinson Foundation (Parkinson.org), approximately 1 million Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD). Typically, the condition develops after the age of 65, although fifteen percent of the people that are diagnosed are under the age of 50.
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disease that results when nerve cells that produce dopamine die or are impaired. Dopamine is a chemical messenger that transmits signals within the areas of the brain that control coordinated movement. When approximately 60-80% of dopamine producing cells die, movement can become uncontrolled and cause the symptoms of PD.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of PD causing disruptions in physical movement include:
A tremor, or shaking, usually begins in a limb, often your hand or fingers. A visible characteristic of Parkinson's disease is a tremor of your hand when it is relaxed (at rest).
Slowed movement (bradykinesia). Over time, Parkinson's disease may reduce your ability to move and slow your movement, making simple tasks difficult and time-consuming. Your steps may become shorter when you walk, or you may find it difficult to get out of a chair. Also, you may drag your feet as you try to walk.
Rigid muscles. Muscle stiffness may occur in any part of your body.The stiff muscles can limit your range of motion and cause you pain.
Impaired posture and balance. Your posture may become stooped, or you may have balance problems as a result of Parkinson's disease.
Loss of automatic movements. In Parkinson's disease, you may have a decreased ability to perform unconscious movements, including blinking, smiling or swinging your arms when you walk.
Speech changes. You may have speech problems as a result of Parkinson's disease. You may speak softly, quickly, slur or hesitate before talking. Your speech may be more of a monotone rather than with the usual inflections.
Writing changes. It may become hard to write, and your writing may appear small.
As symptoms of PD change, it is important that people with Parkinson’s Disease work with an instructor that is experienced with therapeutic movement -- an experienced instructor that will continually assess the situation, design the right movement program, and measure the outcomes as they work together.
Pilates exercises can benefit people with PD in a variety of ways:
Staying physically active is a key element in helping to counter the symptoms of PD. Pilates can offer many benefits relative to the brain-body connection and is a well-suited method of exercise for people with PD. Pilates exercises require mental focus on the body as the exercises are performed creating concentrated pathways for building movement patterns.
Pilates exercises work to develop the deep postural muscles. Strengthening of these muscles can lead to improved stability of the body, which improves posture and the ability to stand and walk with increased balance.
Pilates exercises help the body to move more freely in a variety of ways. The movements can help to counter the muscle stiffness that inhibits every day tasks the person with PD may be experiencing. The ability to partake in everyday tasks , such as getting out of a chair or bending over to tie a shoe will improve with flexibility.
Pilates exercises create more awareness between the mind and the body. People with PD typically experience slower movement as the disease progresses. Pilates exercises can help to counter the progression of these symptoms and provide more efficient movement.
Pilates exercises build proper breathing patterns creating an increase in oxygen moving through the bloodstream to nourish muscles. Proper breathing patterns also support natural rhythm and flow for more efficient movement.
Strengthen and Tone
Pilates exercises done on a regular basis help the body to strengthen and tone muscles. This is very important to help maintain strength as the disease progresses.
Pilates exercises help to align the body’s posture. This benefit has many advantages that go beyond what the eye can see. Internal organs operate more efficiently and the body is able to function at optimal levels. The body will therefore feel less fatigued.
It is important that when you consider any exercise program that the person with PD work with an instructor that is experienced with therapeutic movement. Symptoms of PD can change and an experienced instructor will be able to assess the situation, design the right movement program, and measure the results as you continue to work with them.
Trent McEntire, Director and Founder
As someone who became a professional dancer after rehabilitating his own severe movement restrictions established at birth due to Cerebral Palsy, Trent understands how the quality of life is affected by how well you can (or can't) move your body. For 20 years, he has been sharing his discoveries and method with those seeking to overcome their own movement limitations. His work has led to an international school and equipment designed to further the development of Pilates Therapy and Neuro-Movement. Trent has presented his work at international conferences and host sites in Italy, Japan, Spain, Mexico, UK, Brazil, Canada, and throughout the US.
National Parkinson Foundation (www.parkinson.org)
Mayo Clinic (www.mayoclinic.org)