Intense Exercise May Delay the Progression of Parkinson’s Disease

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A recent study published online at JAMA Neurology, provides evidence that exercise is not only safe for Parkinson’s disease, but may also hold the key to stopping the advancement of the disease. That’s the good news.

The not so good news is, that in order to obtain the benefit of delaying the Parkinson’s progress, one must exercise vigorously; moderate or light exercise did not convey this same benefit. The more intense level of exercise requires consistency and is a life-long commitment for the Parkinson’s patient.

In the U.S., Parkinson’s disease affects about 1 million people and 60,000 people are newly diagnosed each year. It is a progressive neurological disorder that affects a patient’s motor skills. The general progression of the disease is typically slow and varies dramatically from patient to patient. Parkinson’s developing in men is about 1.5 times more likely than in women.

The prevailing thought in the past was that exercise, especially vigorous exercise, would be too much for Parkinson’s disease patients. With the release of this study from researchers at Northwestern Medicine and the University of Colorado School of Medicine there is a new line of thinking.

“If you have Parkinson’s disease and you want to delay the progression of your symptoms, you should exercise three times a week with your heart rate between 80 to 85 percent maximum. It is that simple,”
—  Daniel Corcos,
co-lead author of study

The researchers in the study were being guided by the principle of exercise as medicine. The hope by researchers is that the data supports exercise as an early option for newly diagnosed Parkinson’s patients and will help those patients slow or even arrest the progression of the disease. This would buy patients a longer lifespan and better quality of life.

Parkinson’s patients have symptoms that are divided into two categories: motor and non-motor symptoms. The motor symptoms, having to do with body movement, are probably the most visible, but some patients find their struggle has more to do with the non-motor symptoms. The non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s include: impaired thinking, depression, lack of motivation, GI issues and sleep disturbances.

This particular study utilized a large study population and was a 6-month study, as opposed to a 12-week study. All of which elevates the importance of the findings and further supports the continued investigation into the beneficial effects of high-intensity exercise on Parkinson’s disease patients.

A story in The Chicago Tribune profiled Geoffrey Rogers, one of the patients in the study. Rogers, like everyone else in the study, was divided into one of three groups for a 6-month period.

1) Those who exercised intensely.

2) Those whose exercise was more moderate

3)Those who did not exercise.

Rogers was in the group that exercised intensely. The group that exercised intensely did not see an improvement or change in the symptoms of their condition, but the moderate and no exercise groups saw a worsening of symptoms by 7.5% and 15% respectively over the same time period.

The findings help dispel the notion that Parkinson’s patients are too sick to exercise; in fact the study proves that intense, regular exercise can help delay the symptoms from getting worse.


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