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Science News

Brisk Walking Improves Many Parkinsonís Symptoms

People with Parkinson’s disease (PD) who walked for exercise at a pace that raised their heart rates improved their movement symptoms, including rigidity, as well as some nonmotor symptoms, such as fatigue, depression and cognitive difficulties, according to a new study published July 2 online in Neurology.

Everyone agrees that regular exercise can help people with PD maintain and improve mobility and balance. But experts still debate if other symptoms can be improved and what type of exercise is best. Also, much of the research on exercise and PD has been carried out in a laboratory setting where participants use special equipment, such as a harness when walking on treadmills.

Researchers led by Ergun Y. Uc, M.D., at the University of Iowa, wanted to understand exercise and PD in a more real-life environment. For this study, they tested the safety and health effects – especially changes in quality of life and cognition – of aerobic walking outdoors or in an indoor area. Sixty people with mild to moderate PD participated. On average they were 65 years old. While continuing their usual PD medications, participants walked for 45 minutes, three times a week, for six months. Trainers helped them choose safe routes. While exercising, participants wore electronic heart rate and walking speed monitors. At the beginning of the study, and at regular intervals throughout, the researchers assessed participants on aerobic fitness, cognition, severity of PD movement symptoms, and quality of life measures including fatigue and depression.

Results

  • Eighty-one percent of participants completed the study.
  • Aerobic walking was safe; no serious adverse events were reported.
  • On average, participants walked at a speed of 2.8 miles per hour (4.6 kilometers per hour).
  • Participants improved their maximum oxygen consumption, gait speed, movement symptoms, fatigue and depression.
  • Participants also improved on measures of quality of life, and a cognitive assessment of a person’s ability to focus and filter out distracting information (a common problem faced by people with PD).

What Does It Mean?

This study bolsters the evidence that aerobic exercise benefits people with PD. In addition, it shows that a real-world, easily accessible activity – brisk walking – has the potential to improve fatigue, depression and quality of life in PD. Having established the safety of aerobic walking for people with mild to moderate PD, larger and longer-term studies can be planned to further investigate the potential for cognitive improvement and other benefits.

While walking is a good idea, it is important to check with your doctor before starting an exercise program. Exercise may affect the way your medications work. If you experience “off” periods, you will need to be prepared for these. Also, be sure to wear comfortable sneakers with good support, and bring a balance aid if you need one.

Reference: Uc EY, Doerschug KC, Magnotta V, Dawson JD, Thomsen TR, Kline JN, Rizzo M, Newman SR, Mehta S, Grabowski TJ, Bruss J, Blanchette DR, Anderson SW, Voss MW, Kramer AF, Darling WG (2014) Phase I/II randomized trial of aerobic exercise in Parkinson disease in a community setting. Neurology 83:1-13. Published online before print July 2, 2014, doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000000644 http://dx.doi.org/10.1212/WNL.0000000000000644

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Source Date: Jul 03 2014