Fight Back Against Parkinson’s Disease with Diet and Exercise

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Can implementing an exercise routine along with eating a healthy diet and including hormone balancing techniques regenerate the brain’s ability to increase dopamine levels which can have a significant effect on Parkinson’s symptoms along with possibly preventing the disease to begin with?

The medical community says there is no cure to this disease and provides little hope for those inflicted with Parkinson’s. It doesn’t have to be this way if you decide to fight back by focusing on doing the right things and considerable headway can be made to minimize the symptoms that come with this disease.

This article is dedicated to the men and women of “Rock Steady Boxing” in Mesa, Arizona. Mike Butler is a great workout buddy and talented fighter. Mike is one of my current clients and he has tremendous motivation in fighting back against Parkinson’s!

Mike Butler at Rock Steady Boxing in Mesa, Arizona.

Formula To Succeed with Parkinson’s Disease

  1. Hope.
  2. Expectation and vision for your health.
  3. Knowledge is power and it results in success.
  4. Perseverance is key! Get it done with no excuses.
  5. Commitment is important to health and fitness.
  6. Consistency in your diet and fitness is crucial.

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s a progressive disease of the nervous system marked by tremors, muscular rigidity and slow, imprecise movements which mainly affects middle-aged and elderly people. It is associated with the degeneration of the basal ganglia of the brain and a deficiency of the neurotransmitter called dopamine.

How Parkinson’s Disease Affects The Brain

Parkinson’s is a rapidly progressive disorder which causes a rapid decline if untreated. It affects the basal ganglia part of the brain that controls motor functions and secretes a chemical messenger (neurotransmitter) called dopamine. The lack of dopamine causes loss of nerve-cell transmission and a lack of body movements and motor activity.

My hope in writing this article is to provide knowledge and guidance to middle-aged individuals that have been inflicted with this horrible disease. I also want to educate people who don’t have Parkinson’s disease to possibly prevent it. Even though the medical community says there is no cure, we know enough about the disease to greatly minimize the symptoms. The key areas to focus on are:

  • Hormone Replacement Therapy – HRT is known to minimize Parkinson’s disease symptoms for some. I’ll also note that low testosterone affects dopamine levels. Most people who have Parkinson’s, have low testosterone levels.
  • Nutrition Plan – A well-balanced diet with lean protein, healthy complex carbs, fruits and vegetables is the key.
  • Exercise Program – A well-balanced exercise program increases dopamine in the brain. Weight lifting, and cardio exercise performed on a consistent basis can help create muscle memory to increase bodily movements and motor skills.

Facts About Parkinson’s Disease

Currently, over a million people in the U.S. have Parkinson’s disease and over 10 million world-wide have been inflicted. Men also outnumber women in getting Parkinson’s disease by 1.5 times. The average age someone gets Parkinson’s is 60 years old. I believe the rate of Parkinson’s is due to several factors such as declining hormone levels. Most people who have Parkinson’s have low testosterone levels. Testosterone works hand-in-hand with dopamine in the brain. Low levels of dopamine in the brain results in Parkinson’s symptoms occurring.

The medical community says genetics accounts for only 15% of all Parkinson’s cases. I suspect the culprits are pesticides and processed foods along with the overall health and fitness of the majority of the population. There is very little educational information as to the cause and prevention of Parkinson’s Disease. Preventing these horrible diseases is dependent on educating people about the causes along with prevention tips.

I became aware of Rock Steady Boxing Club, which is of a local Parkinson’s facility, through one of my training clients, Mike Butler, who has had Parkinson’s for over 12 years. His focus to fight back against this horrible disease is unbelievable. I want to provide awareness about how to prevent Parkinson’s as well as providing hope for those inflected with this horrible disease by living a healthy and active lifestyle.

I currently train two men who have Parkinson’s disease. I have developed workouts for each client which attacks the area’s that Parkinson’s affects the body the most. We do cardio and core exercises along with weights and also include lots of stretching and agility exercises. The progress in these men has been amazing! Both of them have doubled their core strength. We lift weights with all of the major muscles and place special emphasis on those areas that are really affected with someone who has Parkinson’s. Lots of core work and lower back training is implemented along with lots of stretching and agility exercises. Building strength in these areas counterbalances what the brain wants them to do.

Parkinson’s Disease is the second most commonly diagnosed neurodegenerative condition behind Alzheimer’s disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), it’s the 14th leading cause of death in America, and if that wasn’t scary enough, 64% of patients diagnosed actually die within six years and only 23% of patients live past the ten-year mark. Most of the deaths associated with Parkinson’s are due to complications in the body created by the disease. Currently, over 1 million Americans have Parkinson’s and each year over 60,000 people are diagnosed with it and many others go undiagnosed.

How To Fight Symptoms Caused By Lack of Dopamine

  • Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)
  • Exercise
  • Diet

Symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease

The signs and symptoms of Parkinson’s disease can be different with each person. Early signs may be mild and go unnoticed. Symptoms often begin on one side of the body and usually remain worse on that side, even after symptoms begin to affect both sides.

The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease results from the loss of dopamine secreting nerve cells in some part of the mid-brain. The nerve cells in one part of the mid-brain, called Pars Compacta, secrete a vital chemical called dopamine. When the brain is unable to produce enough of these cells, it leads to a depletion of dopamine, resulting in Parkinson’s Disease.

Parkinson’s Signs and Symptoms May Include:

  • Tremors: Tremors begin unilaterally, and are the first feature to appear, in most cases. They are most severe when the person is at rest and improve after initial movement. Although most common, this symptom is absent in about 30% of cases.
  • Rigidity: The muscles become stiff and movement is hampered (loss of arm-swing while walking).
  • Bradykinesia: Voluntary movements become slow.
  • Gait Changes: There may be a shuffling gait, where the patient takes short shuffling steps, and tends to trip over.
  • Fatigue: It has been found in about 50% of cases.
  • Postural Changes: There is a stooped, forward-flexed posture, which worsens with time.
  • Expressionless Face: The face often looks expressionless due to the disengagement of facial muscles. This also leads to drooling.
  • Voice Changes: The patient has soft, hoarse and impaired speech.
  • Difficulty in Swallowing: As the disease advances, swallowing becomes progressively more difficult and poses the risk of aspiration pneumonia.
  • Loss of Sexual Function: This occurs due to the impact on the perineal muscles
  • Other: Besides these motor functions, other symptoms like depression, mood changes, memory loss, behavioral changes and sleep disturbances are also seen.

What Causes Parkinson’s Disease?

  • Genetics – Could count for approximately 15% of Parkinson’s disease cases.
  • Environment – There’s also some evidence that one’s environment can play a role. Exposure to certain chemicals has been suggested as a possible link to Parkinson’s disease. These include pesticides such as insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides.
  • Lewy Bodies – Lewy bodies are abnormal clumps of proteins found in the brain stem of people with Parkinson’s disease. These clumps contain a protein that cells are unable to break down. They surround cells in the brain. In the process they interrupt the way the brain functions.
  • Age and Gender – Aging also plays a role in Parkinson’s disease. The older you are the more likely you are to get Parkinson’ Disease. As people age, the brain and dopamine levels start declining which increases the risk of Parkinson’s. In addition, men are 1.5 times more likely to get Parkinson’s disease. Loss of dopamine and/or testosterone in the brain is most prevalent with men over 50 years of age.
  • Loss of Dopamine – The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says the brain cells that produce dopamine, mainly in the substantia nigra, are destroyed in the case of Parkinson’s disease. Without these cells, dopamine can’t be produced, resulting in a complete lack of dopamine. Parkinson’s patients have muscular problems because dopamine is no longer sending messages between the brain and the muscles.
  • Any Cure? – It seems to me that if we can do things to increase dopamine levels, then it can help reduce the likelihood of getting Parkinson’s and reduce or eliminate Parkinson’s symptoms that are caused by a lack of dopamine in the brain. Could preventing Parkinson’s be as simple as doing things that ensure the brain has the appropriate levels of dopamine such as exercising, eating a healthy diet and including hormone replacement therapy (HRT)? Remember that low testosterone levels can destroy dopamine! So, testosterone can stimulate the release of dopamine in the brain and low testosterone can inhibit it. Low testosterone can play a vital role in someone developing Parkinson’s disease. Most of men with Parkinson’s also have low testosterone!

5 Stages of Parkinson’s Disease

  • Stage 1 – Patients exhibit mild symptoms, such as tremors and loss of balance. Typically, this will occur in a single limb.
  • Stage 2 – The symptoms are now bilateral affecting both limbs and both sides of the body.
  • Stage 3 – Inability to walk or stand including a noticeable slowing of physical movement.
  • Stage 4 – Severe symptoms are noticeable, however, the patient can still walk. Rigidity and bradykinesia are often visible. Tremors or shakiness of the earlier stages may lessen or become non-existent.
  • Stage 5 – In the final stage of Parkinson’s, patients are unable to take care of themselves and may not be able to stand or walk. These patients require constant nursing care.

4 Steps To Increase Dopamine Levels

  • Step 1 – Exercise to increase dopamine levels in the brain naturally. According to experts (The Chemistry of Joy), regular and vigorous exercise can be just as effective for treating mood issues as medication and therapy. They recommend 30 minutes of daily exercise, including aerobic exercise, for overall brain health. Weight training is especially helpful for increasing dopamine.
  • Step 2 – As mentioned previously, low testosterone levels can destroy dopamine so it’s crucial to get the T-levels up to the high range.
  • Step 3 – Meditation can improve dopamine levels in the brain. According to a study published in “Cognitive Brain Research,” successful meditation during Yoga Nidra increased dopamine release in the brain. According to Yoga Journal, Yoga Nidra is a total body relaxation technique that is growing in popularity in America. A Yoga Nidra class uses guided imagery and restorative Yoga to gradually induce a deep state of meditation.
  • Step 4 – Eating a proper diet is the key to fueling your brain with the best nutrients! According to research studies, eating lean beef, pork, turkey and chicken facilitate dopamine production. Eating cold water fish, wild game, bison and ostrich helps to produce dopamine as well. Other foods that increase dopamine are low-fat dairy products, fava beans, black beans, chick peas, lima beans, lentils, nuts and seeds. Leafy vegetables and green, yellow and red vegetables can provide nutrients which indirectly facilitate dopamine production.

Why Does The Brain’s Dopamine Levels Drop?

Because of the way the body processes dopamine and the various functions that are involved, it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact reason why some people have low levels of dopamine. However, there are various factors that scientists have highlighted that cause low dopamine.

Testosterone – Testosterone and dopamine are intimately connected in a bidirectional relationship. Testosterone regulates dopamine and vice versa. Testosterone profoundly affects many other neurotransmitters as well. However, preliminary evidence shows that low testosterone can have a much more nefarious side and may play a role in Parkinson’s Disease. Of course, Parkinson’s is the well-known condition that afflicts over a million people and is characterized by muscle rigidity and tremors due to the loss of the brain’s dopamine levels.

Stress –  Stress can affect our body in many ways. Although dopamine can help us cope with a reasonable amount of stress, too much stress can have a negative impact on dopamine levels. A study published in the Journal of Neurochemistry said that stress exposure produced a decrease in the amount of dopamine that was produced.

Obesity – Being overweight can also reduce the number of dopamine receptors in the brain. In a study carried out by the Brookhaven National Laboratory, scientists found that in the obese individuals they examined, all of them had fewer dopamine receptors.

Nutrition – A diet lacking in balanced nutrition can cause dopamine levels to decrease. On the opposite side of the spectrum, eating a healthy diet can increase one’s dopamine levels. Sweets and fatty foods are also known to decrease dopamine levels.

Age and Gender – As the body and the brain age, the brain will produce less dopamine. This is obvious from the standpoint that most don’t get Parkinson’s until they get older. Taking proactive steps in increasing one’s dopamine levels is a proactive step in keeping people safe from Parkinson’s.

Occupation – People involved in agricultural areas with harmful pesticides are more inclined to have lower dopamine levels.

Living with Parkinson’s Disease

Having any disease is never any fun. Many Parkinson’s sufferers will sit on the sidelines because they feel helpless in living a normal life. Most of these people usually don’t live longer than 5-6 years with the disease. However, many people with Parkinson’s have been very successful in negating the terrible Parkinson’s symptoms by living a longer and healthier lifestyle which is achieved through exercising and eating a healthy diet. In addition, many others have been successful in minimizing Parkinson’s symptoms through hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Below are several tips to increase your chances of not getting Parkinson’s or reducing the symptoms if you already have it:

Exercise – This is critical in minimizing the symptoms of Parkinson’s. Workouts should be balanced with cardio, core exercises, weight training along with lots of stretching and agility exercises. Walking exercises, with emphasis on the following perfect walking form is also helpful.

Diet – Eating a healthy diet is key in minimizing Parkinson’s affect on the body. A balanced diet consisting of lean protein foods like fish, chicken, turkey and beef. Lots of fruits and vegetables are also recommended as well as whole grain carbs. Stay away from processed foods and sugar. Controlling your weight can minimize the depletion of dopamine in your brain. Dopamine is the brain’s “feel good” chemical which sends feelings of well-being and pleasure to your body. In addition to simply making you feel good, dopamine helps control weight, energy levels, and supports brain and heart health. Without it, we would be fat, unhappy, and tired. But if you know how to increase dopamine levels, you can take advantage of this “feel good” chemical on command. The best part is that you can increase dopamine levels by eating certain foods which are included below:

  • Eggs – Contains tyrosine.
  • Spirulina – Contains tyrosine.
  • Red beets – Contains betaine, acting as an antidepressant, and tyrosine.
  • Apples – Contain quercetin, to prevent neurodegeneration and boost dopamine.
  • Kale – Rich in folate, to trigger dopamine production.
  • Oregano Oil – Has promising effects on mood swings and cravings by increasing dopamine levels.
  • Bananas – Including the amino acid tyrosine, which boosts dopamine.
  • Strawberries and Blueberries – Includes tyrosine, like bananas.
  • Green Tea – Contains polyphenols, good for brain and heart function, as well as dopamine production.
  • Herbs – Like ginkgo biloba, nettles, dandelion, and ginseng.

Is There a Cure for Parkinson’s Disease?

Unfortunately not yet , but you can reduce your risk of getting it by living a healthy lifestyle and maintaining your dopamine levels. If you already have Parkinson’s, you can minimize the symptoms by increasing dopamine, maintaining hormone levels, exercising on a regular basis and eating a healthy diet!

Why Health and Fitness is So Important

Exercise will help prevent Parkinson’s and minimize the symptoms of Parkinson’s. A well-balanced workout routine involving cardio, core exercises, weight training and lots of agility exercises can help maintain the functionality of the body and muscle structure.

Recent studies and research have indicated that physical activity such as weightlifting training can favorably influence brain plasticity by facilitating neurogenerative, neuroadaptive, and neuroprotective processes. This means that exercise provides the brain with the continuous ability to create new connections between neurons to facilitate learning, critical thinking and memory. These studies have also indicated that weight lifting stimulates the brain’s adaptive capability, which has implications for the prevention and treatment of obesity, cancer, depression, the decline in cognition associated with aging, and neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s dementia, ischemic stroke, and head and spinal cord injury.

The benefit of exercising isn’t just for people who already have Parkinson’s disease. People who perform regular exercise are less likely to be diagnosed with the disease to begin with. And if you do develop the disease, you’ll likely progress more slowly than people who don’t perform any exercise at all.

Exercise Programs for People with Parkinson’s Disease

There are many forms of exercise that is beneficial for people who have Parkinson’s disease. Based on my research and practical experience in training people with Parkinson’s, I have discovered some interesting things. First off, if you have Parkinson’s, then having an effective workout program that reduces or eliminates symptoms is key for long-term survival with this disease. Including a fitness routine can also slow down the progression of Parkinson’s disease. A consistent exercise program can help increase dopamine levels in the brain, but also create a sense of well-being in the body. The primary areas targeted in my workout program for people with Parkinson’s disease include:

Cardio Exercise – Cardio training is very important for several areas (heart, brain, etc).

Stretching – Most people with Parkinson’s have limited flexibility in their back, legs and core. These areas are critical for living a healthy and active life. Addressing these issues is not easy, but overtime you can improve core strength the flexibility in the core and lower back which are the main areas that cause a lot of discomfort for people with Parkinson’s.

Core and Stretching – A strong core is vital to minimizing Parkinson’s symptoms and maintaining control of your body. A strong core stabilizes the spinal column which improves the brain’s ability to send signals throughout the entire body. This area is critical for minimizing the symptoms of Parkinson’s.

Agility Exercises – Such as walking (with correct form), using ladder drills, footwork drills and balance techniques. Again, these exercises train the brain through consistent repetition about how you want it to act. Starting is the hardest, but if you stick with it, you will get better.

Weight Training – Weightlifting helps increase the levels of dopamine in the body. If you increase your dopamine levels you’ll decrease your Parkinson’s symptoms along with slowing down the progression of the disease. Your weight training workout should be balanced for it to be effective. I’d recommend implementing different workouts for different muscle groups. Consistent weight training helps train the brain to learn how muscles are used.

I really hope you found this article interesting and were able to learn some important and productive tips to help prevent and combat Parkinson’s disease!

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About Author

Timothy Roach

My name is Timothy Roach and I'm a Certified Master Trainer, Certified Personal Trainer and I'm certified in sports nutrition. I'm also an accomplished amateur bodybuilder and have competed in 16 bodybuilding competitions. See my profile page for more information!

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