Parkinson’s disease symptoms delayed by exercise (new study)

image of person standing with running shoes

High-intensity exercise three times a week decreases worsening of motor symptoms in individuals with early-stage Parkinson’s disease. That’s according to a new trial led by Northwestern Medicine and University of Colorado School of Medicine scientists.


Parkinson’s symptoms include progressive loss of muscle control, trembling, stiffness, slowness and impaired balance. As the disease progresses, it may become difficult to walk, talk and complete simple tasks. Most people who develop Parkinson’s are 60 and older.


“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,” said co-lead author Daniel Corcos, professor of physical therapy and human movement sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.


The randomized clinical trial named ‘Study in Parkinson Disease of Exercise’ (SPARX) included 128 participants ages 40 to 80 years old. Participants were at an early stage of the disease and not taking Parkinson’s medication.


“The earlier in the disease you intervene, the more likely it is you can prevent the progression of the disease,” Corcos said. “We delayed worsening of symptoms for six months; whether we can prevent progression any longer than six months will require further study.”


Scientists examined the safety and effects of exercise three times weekly for six months at high intensity, 80 to 85 percent of maximum heart rate, and moderate intensity, 60 to 65 percent of maximum heart rate. They compared the results to a control group who did not exercise.


After six months, participants were rated by clinicians on a Parkinson’s disease scale ranging from 0 to 108 (the higher the number, the more severe the symptoms).


Participants in the study had a score of about 20 before exercise.


Afterwards, those in the high intensity group stayed at 20. The group with moderate exercise got worse, by 1.5 points. And the group that did not exercise worsened by three points.


Three points out of a score of 20 is a 15 percent change in the primary signs of the disease. This is considered clinically important to patients and makes a difference in their quality of life.


“We are stopping people from getting worse, which is significant, particularly if we catch them early in the disease,” Corcos said.


Corcos and colleagues confirmed it was safe for the participants to do high-intensity exercise before the trial, by giving them a cardiologist-supervised graded exercise test to evaluate the heart’s response to exercise (…so make sure to seek your doctor’s advice before embarking on any such training).


“Several lines of evidence point to a beneficial effect of exercise in Parkinson’s disease,” said Dr. Codrin Lungu, program director at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. “Nevertheless, it’s not clear which kind of exercise is most effective. The SPARX trial tries to rigorously address this issue. The results are interesting and warrant further exploration of the optimal exercise regimes for Parkinson’s.”


Source: Northwestern University News – High-intensity exercise delays Parkinson’s progression