Moderate Aerobic Exercise May Benefit Those With Parkinson's Disease
July 3, 2014

Moderate Aerobic Exercise May Benefit Those With Parkinson’s Disease

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

According to a new study in the journal Neurology, taking regular brisk walks may help bring relief to those coping with Parkinson’s disease.

“This is probably one of the hottest topics in Parkinson’s research right now,” Beth Fisher, a researcher at the University of Southern California, said to Reuters' Kathryn Doyle in commenting on the new study.

In the study, researchers had 60 people with mild to moderate Parkinson’s walk at a moderate pace while wearing heart rate monitors for 45 minutes, three times a week for six months. The researchers found that the average walking speed of their participants was about 2.9 miles per hour and participants were exercising at 47 percent of their heart rate reserve, considered moderate intensity aerobic exercise.

Study volunteers were also assessed for motor function, cardiovascular fitness, mood, fatigue, and cognitive abilities. The researchers discovered that the walking regimen boosted motor function and mood by 15 percent. Also, attention/response control scores rose by 14 percent, fatigue fell by 11 percent – and both aerobic fitness and walking speed rose by seven percent. Participants’ motor function improved by an average of 2.8 percent, considered a clinically-important shift.

"The results of our study suggest that walking may provide a safe and easily accessible way of improving the symptoms of Parkinson's disease and improve quality of life," said study author Dr. Ergun Y. Uc, a neurologist at the University of Iowa and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center of Iowa City.

"People with mild-moderate Parkinson's who do not have dementia and are able to walk independently without a cane or walker can safely follow the recommended exercise guidelines for healthy adults, which includes 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity aerobic activity, and experience benefits," Uc added.

The Iowa doctor said the positive effects of exercise are difficult to compare to those of Parkinson’s medications as each one works via different mechanisms. He suggested that the walking regimen could be used as a supplement to drug treatments.

People with Parkinson’s may feel too discouraged by their condition to regularly exercise, but Uc said patients with a mild to moderate case of the disease should be able to follow the aerobic component of the study, 150 minutes of exercise per week, with the guide of their physician.

Uc noted that the published study was just a preliminary trial and he has applied for phase III trial funding to continue the work.

Jay Alberts, from the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute in Ohio, noted that the study showed the effectiveness of moderate exercise that shouldn’t be too demanding for the average person.

“This shows it doesn’t necessarily have to be super high-intensity exercise,” said Alberts, who is a Parkinson’s disease expert, but wasn’t involved in the new research.

“This should 100 percent be a part of the treatment program,” he added. “As long as they can do these things in a safe manner and don’t have any other orthopedic reasons (not to exercise), I’m not sure there’s any reason not to recommend exercise.”

“Even if there aren’t motor benefits, there are improvements in mood, fatigue, aerobic fitness - all of these things,” Alberts said.