Brisk walking is shown to help some people with Parkinson’s disease

July 7, 2014

THE QUESTION Proven benefits of walking include a lower risk for heart disease, diabetes and depression. Might regular walks for exercise also have an effect on the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, which causes trembling, rigidity and impaired coordination?

THIS STUDY involved 60 people (average age, 65) who had mild to moderate Parkinson’s; they did not need a cane or walker, had no dementia and were living independently. For six months, they walked at a brisk pace for 45 minutes, three times a week. Electronic monitors gauged their heart rate and walking speed to ensure moderate-intensity exercise. Periodic standardized testing showed improvements in motor function and aerobic fitness: motor function overall up 15 percent, gait speed up 7 percent and aerobic fitness up 7 percent.

Symptoms beyond physical ones — factors that affect cognition and quality of life — also improved. For example, mood scores went up 15 percent, fatigue scores fell by 11 percent and scores on attention/response control improved by 14 percent. According to the study, the findings suggest that people with mild to moderate Parkinson’s “can safely exercise per the guidelines for the general adult population and experience benefits.”

WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? People with Parkinson’s disease, which affects more men than women and generally develops at about age 60. It occurs when the brain does not produce enough dopamine, a neurotransmitter that, among other things, helps regulate movement. Key symptoms of Parkinson’s include trembling, stiffness, slowed movement and poor balance. People with the disease can also experience problems that do not involve movement, such as mood disorders, sleep issues, fatigue, slowed thinking and memory difficulties.

CAVEATS The study included a fairly small number of participants and did not include, for comparison, a group of people who did not walk. The findings apply only to those with mild to moderate Parkinson’s. People with the disease should consult with their doctor before starting any exercise program.

FIND THIS STUDY July 2 issue of Neurology, www.neurology.org.

LEARN MORE ABOUT Parkinson’s disease at www.ninds.nih.gov and www.pdf.org.

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.

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