PUBLISHED: 1:59 PM on Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Physical activity keeps Parkinson's at bay
Parkinson's disease can be more effectively managed by a regular exercise program, experts say.

"There's no doubt that people who have a positive attitude and exercise generally cope with the disease much better than those who don't," said Dr. Joseph Jankovic, professor of neurology and director of the Parkinson's center at Baylor College of Medicine.

"Exercise is clearly a positive force in dealing with Parkinson's."

Living proof of the "use it or lose it" adage can be found in one of Jankovic's patients, former Beaumont, Texas, Mayor Maury Meyers, who not only stays physically active, he also embodies advancements in patient care and research.

Meyers, who also plays golf, currently shoots in the mid-80s in a sport where many people with no physical disabilities struggle to avoid the three-digit range.

It took Meyers five years to overhaul the mechanics of his swing after first being diagnosed with the disease.

Meyers, who regularly rides a stationary bike and lifts free weights, considers mental fortitude as important as his physical regimen.

"It's kind of like a war, and your enemy is waiting to close in on you," said Meyers. "I've seen so many people succumb to the disease, spending all their time on the sofa watching TV."

"My admiration grows for Mr. Meyers every year because he not only copes so effectively with the disease, he's going way beyond it," said Jankovic.

"He's not just trying to help himself, but he's also helping others by raising funds."

Jankovic said a regular exercise program, tailored to the needs of the individual, is critical for continued well being.

Exercises for Parkinson's patients should be designed to improve strength (through the use of free weights, weight machines, and elastic bands) and overall fitness (by walking and swimming).

Swimming and water exercises have the additional advantage in that there is very little stress on the joints and the resistance improves muscle strength.

In addition to evidence supported by Meyers' perseverance, recent animal research has provided strong evidence that exercise can increase brain levels of neurotrophic factors, increase resistance to brain insult or injury, and improve learning and mental as well as motor performance.