Specialist Parkinson Physiotherapists Maria Lewis and Sally Tawhai explain why the best exercise for YOPD does not involve mindless hours on a treadmill but something demanding effort – that can fully engage both brain and body.

As the consultant’s words ‘Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease’ hang in the air, the newly diagnosed might have been forgiven for thinking it a death sentence.

An early but essential lesson to learn is that with a bit of effort a YOPDer can live a long, fulfilling life – managing their condition, to a greater or lesser degree – with exercise.

Parkinson’s exercise means exercising the brain, which happily results in the body also getting physically stronger, fitter, and more flexible. Basically, exercise increases resilience to whatever symptoms might be next in the personalised YOPD variety pack.

A focus on exercising the brain is slightly different from exercising the body. Those with an established exercise regime might need to shake it up a little. It’s unlikely that too many people with YOPD will go to the gym and exercise on autopilot. Sooner or later this empty experience will result in apathy and the YOPDer will give up.

Beneficial brain exercise requires the YOPDer to engage in a “thinking modality that causes him or her to break into a sweat”. The upside of this is that there’s a medical reason and an incentive to be proactive and add variety. People take up all manner of new exercises, sports, and crazy activities in the name of YOPD.

There are people out there with YOPD who are boxing, biking, running, and setting themselves death-defying challenges, including wing-walking!

The brain loves to learn, and problem solve. Aware of its failing circuits, it’s looking to find ways to adapt and rewire. The right exercise, sport or activity will provide the perfect environment for brain therapy.

Exercise will not only control symptoms on a day-to-day basis, but it may also slow down the progression and that’s a real game-changer!