Irish Dance and Parkinson’s?

There has been a really interesting article circulating that was just brought back to my attention the other day. A study regarding some potential benefits for those with Parkinson’s disease seems to be found in step dancing (an area of passion for me, so particularly exciting news!).

Those with Parkinson’s disease (PD) or who have friends and family battling through will be acutely aware that most of our current medical treatments like dopamine replacement medications have a distinct lifespan and point of diminishing returns where treatment just does not seem to have as great an effect.  So what gives?  How can something as simple as dancing have an effect?

Various types of exercise treatments for PD, such as step dance and boxing, rely heavily on one of my favorite principles in the human body: neuroplasticity.  Parkinsonian disorders affect a very specific area of our brain. However, this principle notes that with very specific retraining other portions of our nervous system can actually take over for some of the functions that this area of the brain is not as capable of.

What is interesting is that some of the training techniques research has shown work best for these kinds of disorders are already presently used by coaches and teachers in a variety of sports! This is why we see such phenomenal benefits from dance and boxing as both involve large dynamic movements with a high degree of repetition utilizing specific cues to make sure you are performing the techniques correctly. Some of the foundational principles of other more “traditional” physical therapy techniques for PD like the Big and Loud program!

We like to say that if exercise is medicine we should make sure that medicine tastes good, and what better way to make exercise for Parkinson’s disease fun than with dance!