Modern day life is busy. Most of us have to juggle many things – long work hours, relationships, family commitments, social lives.
We’ve all heard the mantras ‘eat healthily’, ‘get enough exercise’, ‘use your brain’, ‘sleep well’, ‘take time for relaxation’, however, these principles can be especially relevant for people who are at risk of or living with Huntington’s disease.
Healthy living can benefit everyone, leading to improved mental health, a greater sense of control over life and a better ability to cope when the going gets tough. It’s very important to take time out for relaxation and ‘me time’.
There is a well-known phrase: ‘use it or lose it’. A less familiar term is ‘neural reserve’ or brain resilience. The ‘use it or lose it’ principle refers to doing things now, so you build your capacity up to be stronger in the future.
Imagine a man who has a go riding a unicycle. His first try is not good; he manages just two rotations of the pedals before falling off. This difficult action of unicycling has, however, resulted in different cells throughout the brain firing, which leads to a kind of circuit of neurons activating together.
He then decides to have a go the next day. Again, this network of neurons fire together and this time, connect a bit more strongly. After this he then decides that he will train in unicycling and does it for an hour each day. By doing this, he strengthens his neuronal network every single time.
How is this man’s unicycling relevant to Huntington’s?
Exercise has been shown to have many benefits for people of all ages and every level of fitness and health. Some of these benefits can include improved mood, concentration, cardiovascular conditioning and improved strength, balance and coordination.
Currently research is underway in Europe and the U.S.A, with people with early-mid stage Huntington’s, to determine the possible benefits of various types of physiotherapy-led exercise programs.
Physiotherapists are trained in understanding the effects of movement disorders such as Huntington’s. They can help you to understand the potential physical motor symptoms and progression of the disease, and can prescribe exercises and activities that are appropriate for your own specific needs.
The Physiotherapy Working Group of the European Huntington’s Disease Network (EHDN) has made the following recommendations for people who are at risk of Huntington’s, or at the early stages of the disease:
Basic guidelines for a recommended fitness programme:
If you have any questions, you can contact members of the Physiotherapy Working Group of the European Huntington’s Disease Network, who are specialist experts in physiotherapy for people with Huntington’s disease.
You can also talk about exercise and other aspects of living well - including emotionally as well as physically - to your GP, or your SHDA (Specialist Huntington’s Disease Adviser).