Health: Exercise key to fight against Parkinson’s

Parkinson's UK Leeds Branch members enjoy an exercise class at St Chad's Parish Centre, in Otley Road, Headingley.
Parkinson's UK Leeds Branch members enjoy an exercise class at St Chad's Parish Centre, in Otley Road, Headingley.
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Getting the heart racing and working up a sweat is a key ingredient to a healthy lifestyle.

But finding the energy and willpower to step into the gym or go out on that run can often prove difficult in an era of modern day dieting and a quick fix culture. Nevertheless the impact of getting out and about should never be minimised.

For people with Parkinson’s disease, exercise can play a crucial role in managing an incurable degenerative condition that can slowly rob people of their mobility and independence.

Retired Otley teacher Linda Thompson, 64, credits staying active with her ongoing ability to live a fulfilling life 16 years after her Parkinson’s diagnosis.

The disease, which is being highlighted as part of Parkinson’s Awareness Week from April 20 to 26, stems from a deficiency of the chemical dopamine which in-turn damages the nervous system.

Linda said: “I noticed my writing on the board at school was very bad and I had a very bad tremor, eventually I was diagnosed in 1999. For a while it was a case of being in denial – it didn’t feel real.”

Eight years ago she came across an EXTEND exercise class for over 60s, and suggested specialist sessions including a yoga class for Parkinson’s UK Leeds Branch. Those sessions now run in half a dozen Leeds locations.

A National Parkinson’s Foundation study has been tracking the care and progress of patients since 2009, with data suggesting exercise can benefit people in two ways.

Firstly, it has been shown to help people manage symptoms when it comes to balance, strength and coordination, while experts believe it can in some cases slow the progression of the disease.

Scientists at University of Pittsburgh have found that in animal models, exercise reduces the vulnerability of the brain’s dopamine-producing cells to damage.

“I’m not saying exercise helps get rid of it in anyway but it’s helped me to live an independent life,” Linda said. “It’s very much a situation where you can end up feeling sorry for yourself, and I don’t want to.”

Physical symptoms of the disease can include constipation, tiredness, reduced mobility and tremors which can lead on to depression and social isolation, meaning many fail to access the support available to them.

Jim Bradley, acting chair of Parkinson’s UK Leeds Branch, explained that the volunteer-led group has around 600 members locally although up to 2,000 people in Leeds are thought to have Parkinson’s.

The 62-year-old added: “Parkinson’s is a very misunderstood disease.

“We need to encourage people to come out of their shells and realise we are there for people that want us.”


Parkinson’s UK Leeds Branch is a support group which sets out to help and support hundreds of people with the disease and their carers.

Activities organised by the group range from events for the newly-diagnosed and craft fairs to social groups, exercise classes and art groups.

Based at St Chad’s Parish Centre, in Headingley, the branch meets monthly and runs events weekly.

For information call 0844 2253634 or email bvso.yorkshire@parkinsons.org.uk.