Exercise Aids Parkinson's Disease Patients


Exercise Aids Parkinson's Disease Patients

When you think of exercise, you probably picture people struggling to lift heavy objects while trying not to slip in their own puddles of sweat. You probably see the same people on the machines, the same meatheads in the free-weight area, and the same elderly people cruising along on the cardio equipment. But while those meatheads add to their puddles of sweat and dream about eating a meal other than chicken breast and steamed veggies, some of those on the cardio equipment may be quietly fighting an uphill battle with no concrete victory ahead.

The battle against Parkinson’s disease has been noted since the early 19th century. James Parkinson first published his findings about the disease which later took his name in his classical essay The Shaking Palsy in 1817. Parkinson’s Disease (PD) currently affects over 6 million people worldwide, with 60,000 new cases diagnosed every year in the U.S. alone. Since age has been deemed the number one risk factor for PD, this number will only continue to grow with lengthened life expectancies and the aging baby boomer generation. However, researchers recently discovered that exercise helps to slow the neurodegeneration of dopaminergic neurons in the basal ganglia.

The Science Behind Parkinson’s

PD is a neurodegenerative disease, meaning: symptoms worsen as time goes on, because cells continue to die. Dopaminergic neurons are the cells which continuously die out. These specific brain cells produce a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine works to help control motor functions, memory, and pleasure, among other things, so a dopamine depletion would impair one’s motor functions (a.k.a. voluntary movements). The depletion of dopaminergic neurons occurs in a brain region called the basal ganglia. Since dopamine works to control movement, the most noticeable symptoms of PD are the ones which affect motor functions like: tremors, rigidity (stiffness), and bradykinesia (slowed movement). PD symptoms may be managed, but not cured. The disease has no known cause or cure. The symptoms progress in severity as time goes on BUT exercise can slow the progression and make symptoms more manageable!

Exercise’s Effects on Parkinson’s

Exercise as an intervention for PD has shown to increase dopamine production through the formation of new neuronal connections, leading to more pathways for production. A study performed at the Cleveland Clinic showed the shear effectiveness of exercise on PD patients. Researchers found that exercise on a tandem bicycle activated the same brain regions affected by PD. The results indicate that the exercise was just as effective as medication for the disease. Findings like these may eliminate the need for medication so early on in the treatment process, making treatment much more affordable while simultaneously introducing an inexpensive alternative treatment. A German study found that forced exercise improves the walking patterns in PD patients. Since PD affects the motor functions of patients, researchers sought out a way to improve their walking patterns. Findings indicate that forced exercise elicited long-term positive effects on PD patients’ walking, combatting the dopamine deficiency. The combined effects from these studies show promising evidence that exercise can be used as an effective treatment to aid in the fight against Parkinson’s.


Alberts, J. L., Phillips, M., Lowe, M. J., Frankemolle, A., Thota, A., Beall, E. B., & ... Ridgel, A. L. (2016). Cortical and motor responses to acute forced exercise in Parkinson's disease. Parkinsonism & Related Disorders, 2456-62. doi:10.1016/j.parkreldis.2016.01.015

Bear, M. F., Connors, B. W., & Paradiso, M. (2016). Neuroscience: Exploring the Brain. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer.

Stuckenschneider, T., Helmich, I., Raabe-Oetker, A., Froböse, I., & Feodoroff, B. (2015). Active assistive forced exercise provides long-term improvement to gait velocity and stride length in patients bilaterally affected by Parkinson's disease. Gait & Posture, 42(4), 485-490. doi:10.1016/j.gaitpost.2015.08.001


The Real Deal With Fitness Trackers


The Real Deal With Fitness Trackers

It’s 2019, and the days of simply tracking our run times with a Casio watch bought in aisle six of Target are a thing of the past. Joking aside, seriously, the fitness wearable market has exploded in the last couple years. I’ll bet someone sitting next to you while you’re reading this has an Apple Watch on, or maybe you do. Smart watches and fitness trackers like Fitbits or Whoop bands have given us the ability to observe a plethora of information about how our body functions throughout the day. The big question that comes with all this available information then becomes how accurate is it?

I’m going to have to burst your bubble and tell you - not very. That being said I think they do have a lot of applicable uses (I even wear one myself). The problem arises when people get stuck on the number (or rings if you’re an apple watch user) on their wrist and forget to see the bigger picture.

To be frank, fitness trackers as a sole tool to engage in and succeed in weight loss or increase one’s level of fitness do not work. A study out of the University of Pittsburgh that ran for 2 years between 2010 and 2012 found that, in a study population who combined a weight loss program with a fitness tracker versus a group who just used the weight loss program without the tracker, the non-tracker group lost more weight (results published in the Journal of the American Medical Association). Let me break down why this happens (and why it happens more often than you’d think).

1.    How do fitness trackers work?

There are several ways your typical fitness tracker works. First, when it comes to the original function of wearable trackers - step counting - trackers use accelerometers, which are three-axis motion sensors to tell you how you’re moving through space and how many steps you’ve taken. Honestly, this is hard to screw up and most fitness trackers have decent accelerometers in them. From there the functions of trackers become more in depth, and the accuracy of the metrics they track may fall off.

The next major step in the tracker game was heart rate tracking. Most popular trackers, Apple Watch, Garmin’s Vivosmart series and Fitbit, track heart rate using optical sensors (that little green laser thing on the back) to light up the capillaries in the wrist and count the heartbeats. That is about as accurate as it sounds; shine a light at your skin and watch what happens underneath. The point is that they’re really just taking a guess at how fast your heart is beating. It was a good try though.

2.    How accurate are they?

The data collected by trackers are put through an algorithm to tell you all the other metrics you may desire to know. For a lot of people, calories burned is at the top of this list. The tracker needs to account not only for heart rate, but also body metrics (height, weight, age, etc.). Now, companies like Apple or Garmin don’t make these algorithms public, so then it becomes a bit of a guessing game as to how much they can be relied upon (Wearable.com).

3.    So what?

So now you might be questioning why anyone would purchase a tracker, or if Apple can really be that good. Well, let me tell you why trackers are so popular and why you may still want to go buy one.

According to research out of the University of Pennsylvania, fitness trackers do a really good job of motivating people to be active in a variety of ways. Specifically, one of the best ways found was through fitness trackers’ integration with social networks, allowing for the formation of community and competition based on the metrics that can be tracked by your wearable. They also are a good way to track a “me vs. me” competition within ourselves to beat our steps, miles walked, or active calories burned a day.

Also, fitness trackers are evolving. A lot of the research on their accuracy is fairly old now, and while new studies haven’t been done to quantify the newer tracker’s accuracy, based on the research going into not only the hard, numeric data but also the psychological and mentality edge fitness trackers may be able to offer (via goal setting, competition, etc.) we can at least hope that they’re becoming more intricate, useful tools rather than just another screen we carry around.

Bottom line: if you like it, use it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a good pulse on where you’re at day-to-day health wise. And, in a growing fitness technology market, a cheapish watch or band is a great, cost-effective way to do that. That said, just take your numbers with a grain of salt, and don’t make your Apple Watch your new Bible. It’s just one small tool in your arsenal. Don’t forget the basics and don’t let the numbers run your life. The most important thing in any exercise endeavor is to have fun and stay consistent. If a wearable fitness tracker helps you do those two things, then go for it.


Why Is Strength Training Important?


Why Is Strength Training Important?

It is well-established that repeated physical activity is an important part of living a long and healthy life (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2018). Thankfully, there are many options. Running, swimming, pilates, yoga, and playing recreational sports are all popular ways that people can stay physically active. These activities vary in the specific physiological demand and movement pattern of the body. However, they all have one thing in common. Performance in all of these activities is increased by a properly applied strength training (aka resistance training) program. In other words, strength training will make you a better swimmer, a better runner, and a better athlete in general. You could say that it is a healthy performance booster (especially for those who don’t do strength training often).

What exactly is muscular strength and how can we measure it?

Muscular strength is defined as the maximal amount of force that a muscle can exert in a single contraction. Strength can be measured in several ways, but in practical terms, strength is the amount of weight you are able to lift for a given exercise. For example, If you can deadlift 225 pounds for one repetition, that is a measure of strength, specific to that exercise.

A good strength training program involves many exercises that are functional movements (squats, deadlifts, overhead press, etc) that utilize all muscle groups of the body. It is important that exercises are completed with correct form, the correct amount of times per week, and with the correct amount of weight. It is also important to not overdo it! Let your muscles rest between lifting days.

Why is it good for us to be strong?

Reason #1

Stronger people live longer. Research shows that mortality rates are lower for individuals that are stronger (Metter et al., 2002). This is especially true for people over 60 years of age.

Reason #2

Greater strength levels increase performance in all physical activities. Yes, even long distance runners should lift weights if they want to improve their running performance. The reason is because strength training improves physiological factors in the body that increase our bodies ability to do other types of physical activity. Namely, the amount of fuel we have available for exercise (glycogen storage), our ability to tolerate intense exercise (buffering capacity), and how much energy we are using during exercise (STØREN et al., 2008). These physiological factors are important for many types of physical activities but often those activities will not improve physiological factors as significantly as resistance training. If you can perform activities at a higher level, you can burn more calories for a longer period of time. Through strength, we can achieve a greater performance in all physical activities we do, resulting in a greater level of fitness.

Reason #3

Strength training reduces chances of injury. It strengthens not only muscles, but tendons, ligaments and bones. All of which are important for staying injury free, allowing you to participate in many physical activities safely. For example, many people that run to excess can develop stress fractures in the bones, shin splints, or tendonitis. However, if you add strength training to your exercise routine, your chances of sustaining an injury are reduced.


Strength training is an important part of living a healthy life because it helps you to live longer without injuries, and improves performance in all other movements that you do. The long distance runner who is trying to improve his/her time should do resistance training. The recreational basketball player that is trying to play an entire game without sitting out should do resistance training. And even just the average joe that is trying to live longer and stay healthy should do resistance training.


  1. U.S. department of health and human services. (2018, June 21). 2018 Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report. https://health.gov/paguidelines/second-edition/report.aspx

  2. Metter, E. J., Talbot, L. A., Schrager, M., & Conwit, R. (2002). Skeletal muscle strength as a predictor of all-cause mortality in healthy men. The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 57(10), B359-B365.

  3. STØREN, Ø., Helgerud, J. A. N., STØA, E. M., & Hoff, J. A. N. (2008). Maximal strength training improves running economy in distance runners. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise40(6), 1087-1092.


Finding the Right Training Shoes


Finding the Right Training Shoes

Going into a shoe store can be very overwhelming for many people. There's a wide variety of athletic shoes with different colors, shapes, bells, and whistles. It can be daunting and challenging trying to figure out which shoe is the one for you. The answer to that question depends mainly on the type of activity you will engage in and how your feet are shaped. Choosing the right shoe can help you avoid minor injuries, such as shin splints, patellar tendinitis, runners knee, etc. Let’s dive deeper into what to keep in mind when shoe shopping. Here’s what you’ll need to know:

1. Focus on function

Before you look into your favorite color scheme or shoe brand, first consider what type of activity you will be partaking in. It is ideal to separate your running shoes from your training shoes. Today’s athletic footwear is made with amazing technology that can be sometimes overlooked and used in the wrong situations. Shoes designed for running are intended for linear movements and made with a lightweight structure, breathable material, and an excellent cushion within the soles that absorb the shock from the ground upon each step. The shock-absorbing technology is great for running because the heel is thicker and it positions the body into a natural forward lean. These are advantageous for linear running, but not necessarily training in the gym. A forward lean can be less helpful while squatting because it counteracts the need of the torso to maintain an upright position. We want the torso to be upright in order to safely secure the barbell on the upper back during the eccentric phase (downward movement) of the squat. A cross-training shoe is ideal while inside the gym because the sole creates a more stable platform for the entire foot to plant on during functional movements such as squatting, lunging, jumping, crawling, cutting and slamming. Characteristics of a good cross-training shoe include a thick and durable sole with quality traction at the bottom, which is favorable for lateral movements on different ground surfaces.

2. Understand your feet

All feet are unique and one shoe model will not fit everyone, so knowing the shape of your own feet is the key to selecting the proper pair. One easy way to determine foot shape is by using the “wet-test”. Wet your foot, place it on a brown paper and trace your footprint. After tracing your foot, survey the paper looking for signs of pronation, supination or neutral arch.

If your footprint trace shows a majority of the sole with little to no curve on the inside (or if your current shoes show the most wear on the inside edge) it means you have a low arch (also known as flat feet), and your feet tend to “pronate” or roll inwardly when walking. This foot type needs motion-control shoes with maximum support to align foot, knee and hip when walking.

If your footprint trace shows only a small portion of the forefoot and heel with a slim connection between (or if your shoe wears mostly on the outside edge), you have a high arch and your feet tend to “supinate” or roll outward when walking. You will need a shoe with more cushion to provide more shock absorption for the center of the foot.

If your footprint trace has a distinct curve along the inside (or the soles of your shoes tend to evenly wear out), your arch is neutral. You will need a stabilizing shoe that will provide an even amount of cushion along the sole.

3. Always try on the shoe

Now that you know exactly what type of shoe model you’re looking for when you walk into the store, try on multiple pairs with differing brands to compare which model best fits your foot. When your foot is inside the shoe use the “rule of thumb” in which you make sure your toes have about a thumbs width of space at the front of the shoe to ensure enough wiggle room while running. After checking for toe space, get up and walk around the store to be sure you feel sufficient cushion and also that your heel isn’t sliding forward (which indicates the shoe is too long). The biggest takeaway for trying on shoes would be to avoid the mindset of believing that you can “break in” your training shoes. This is a misconception because technology has advanced enough to get the right fit the first time you try them on. If the shoe doesn’t feel good the 1st wear it won’t on the 30th either!

Pro tip: Shop for shoes at the end of the day when feet are swollen from standing all day, similar to how they expand while working out.


How To Prepare For A Race - The Right Way


How To Prepare For A Race - The Right Way

Whether you’re a recreational runner, weekend warrior, or aspiring runner, it’s vital that you take the proper measures when preparing for an upcoming race. By properly preparing for your race, you can improve your race time as well as prevent injury. Here are a few insights to consider before you gear up on race day.

Avoid overtraining and focus on your heart rate and maximum steady state

Overtraining syndrome is characterized by diminished physical performance, accelerated fatiguability, stress, irritability, and lack of sleep. One of the best ways to limit your likelihood of overtraining is by monitoring your heart rate using a device like a polar H-10. During high-intensity training, running, or strength-related workouts, your rest periods can be tracked using a heart rate monitoring device. This will allow you to gauge how quickly your heart rate stabilizes before it increases again during the next workout interval.

How to know if you are overtraining? If you’re having a hard time decreasing your heart rate by at least 50 percent, you may be overtraining or overreaching (at the brink of overtraining). To find out for sure, you should consider a VO2 test, which analyzes the body’s volume of oxygen consumption. Through a VO2 test, you’ll learn specific data that will help you to meet your race day goals. You can get a VO2 at Perform For Life’s newly established Run Lab. Our test can determine the following:

  1. Your body’s maximum ability to consume, distribute, and utilize oxygen

  2. What substrates (carbohydrates or fats) your body is relying on to fuel your workouts

  3. What you can expect for your max race pace or max steady state, the highest intensity (speed) that your body can maintain for the duration of your race

The risks associated with overtraining: When overdone, aerobic training can be detrimental to the body’s ability to cope with stress. When your exercise intensity is highly defined by an increase in heart rate or physical demands on the body, the amount of time spent on the exercise should be decreased. Simply put: for optimal recovery, you should have a longer rest period between days of high-intensity training.

Prevent injury by strengthening your muscular imbalances

Injury: If you’ve been a runner for a while, you may know that the greatest risk factor for a future injury is a previous injury. The truth of the matter is that running is one of the leading causes of overuse injuries. An overuse injury occurs as a result of repeated stress on the body due to poor posture and muscle function - causing areas of the body to break down over time, resulting in small to large-scale injuries.

What is a gait analysis and how can it can help? In addition to VO2 testing at our Run Lab, Perform For Life is also offering gait analyses. A gait analysis is a precise assessment of how the body moves during the gait cycle, and a gait cycle is the sequence of movements in which your foot contacts the ground during walking or running. When you run, you spend 40 percent of the time on one leg which means, during a gait cycle, the forces you put into the ground can be up to 7x your bodyweight. For example: if you weigh 150lbs, you can potentially put up to 1,000lbs of force into the ground on one foot. And, depending on how your foot interacts with the ground, that force can dictate both the amount of stress your body absorbs and how it absorbs it.

Through a gait analysis, you can determine muscular imbalances such as those that lead to foot pronation and eversion, which occurs when the foot collapses inward and turns outward. This in turn causes the knee to collapse inward and the hip to shift to the side. These faulty mechanics lead to foot, knee, and hip injuries such as plantar fasciitis, ligament issues, hamstring strains, IT band syndrome, knee pain, and hip pain...just to name a few.  

With the help of a strength and conditioning coach, physical therapist, or athletic trainer, you can  identify any imbalances that you may have and figure out how to improve them and treat them before the day of your race.   

Breakdown of what you need:

  1. A proper workout regimen that allows for rest days between high-intensity workouts

  2. A consistent way of tracking your heart rate

  3. VO2 testing to analyze oxygen intake, substrate consumption and max race pace aka max steady state

  4. A routine to care for previous injuries so that you can avoid new ones

  5. Gait analysis testing to increase efficiency and identify any muscular imbalances that can cause harm before, during, or after your race

Follow the link to book your VO2 test and gait analysis today.