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Low Intensity Treadmill Exercise Is Best To Improve Walking In Parkinson’s

April 13, 2011

New evidence suggests that walking on a treadmill at a comfortable speed and for longer duration is the most effective exercise to improve mobility in people with Parkinson’s disease. That’s according to the first randomized trial comparing three types of exercise training in Parkinson’s disease. The late-breaking research will be presented at the 63rd Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Neurology, April 9, 2011, in Honolulu.

“Difficulty walking is the greatest cause of disability in people with Parkinson’s disease,” said Lisa M. Shulman, MD, with the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore and a Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology. “These results have important implications for how we manage Parkinson’s disease, since low-intensity exercise can be done by most people with Parkinson’s, and our patients frequently ask what type of exercise they should be doing.”

In this study, 67 people with Parkinson’s disease who had problems with walking were randomly assigned to three types of exercise: high intensity treadmill (greater speed, shorter duration), low intensity treadmill (lower speed, longer duration) or stretching and resistance exercises, which included repetitions of leg presses, extensions and curls.

Participants exercised three times a week for three months and were supervised by exercise physiologists at the Baltimore VA Medical Center. They were tested before and after the training with assessments of distance covered in a six-minute walk, walking speed at 10 meters and 50 feet, general fitness and ratings of their Parkinson’s symptoms.

Researchers discovered that low intensity treadmill training resulted in the most consistent improvements in gait and mobility. People who were on the low intensity treadmill training performed better than the two other groups on the distance and speed tests. However, only stretching and resistance training improved the ratings on the Parkinson’s disease scale.

“Contrary to evidence suggesting that high intensity exercise is the most effective, our results suggest that a combination of low intensity training and stretching-resistance training may achieve the greatest improvements for people with Parkinson’s disease” said Shulman.

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