Exercise in Parkinson's

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2010 edition of PDF's quarterly newsletter, News & Review.

Around the country, communities are organizing dance classes for people with Parkinson’s disease (PD).  They are talking about the cyclists whose PD symptoms dissipate when riding their bikes and noticing that researchers are studying activities like tai chi and pole-walking.  Whether you yourself have taken part in an exercise class or you have read these stories with interest, you may be wondering how exercise could benefit your life with PD.

The Parkinson’s Disease Foundation (PDF) has also long been curious about this issue.  To explore it, PDF convened a series of Exercise in PD workshops.  The workshops are among several a year during which PDF brings together multi-disciplinary teams — researchers, doctors, people with PD and health professionals — to discuss research and to encourage collaboration amongst the community.

Take Charge of Your PD Through Exercise

PDF-Funded Research: Exercise

But wait, surely we all know exercise is beneficial for our health.  So why do we need to research the subject?  The answer to that is we don’t understand how exercise works.  If scientists could understand if a certain type of exercise is most beneficial for Parkinson’s and why, your doctor could then prescribe the best form to ease your symptoms.  More intriguingly, some scientists and physicians suspect exercise may not simply relieve PD symptoms but may also delay its progression.  If that’s the case, we need to know not just why...but how.

Participants in the Exercise in PD series have made strides toward answering these questions.  They recently submitted a grant to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) requesting support for a large clinical trial.  They note that this trial, designed during a 2009 meeting, will do something no other has before — study the impact of exercise on a group of people who are newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s and who are not already taking medication.  How can we know if exercise will impact the progression of PD without removing the effects of medication?  

The researchers will work with 200 people living with PD for up to 18 months to track how exercise impacts need for medication, quality of life, gait, mood and cardiovascular fitness.  They will track changes in the brain of approximately 40 of these participants.

While this trial is an exciting development, the group also has other plans to form an ongoing association dedicated to exercise and Parkinson’s research.  Supported in part by PDF, it will provide a forum for professional collaboration and support of promising scientific studies.  

One of its leaders, Roger Kurlan, M.D., of Overlook Hospital at the Atlantic Neuroscience Institute in New Jersey said, “PDF’s workshops have introduced us to like-minded individuals across the country committed to understanding the effect of exercise on Parkinson’s.  We are much more likely to make progress because we are working together and sharing all of our results.  Our group will ensure that this work continues — in the hope that one day we can give people with Parkinson’s a tangible way to take charge of their disease and live well with it.”

PDF thanks Ms. Ethel Allen for her support of this program.

*   *   *

Taking Charge of PD through Exercise

*   *   *

PDF-Funded Research: Exercise

PD4PD: Partnered Dance for Parkinson’s Disease
Gammon Earhart, P.T., Ph.D. 
Washington University School of Medicine

Unveiling Natural History of Quality of Life and Mobility Decline in PD*
Matthew Ford, P.T., M.A., Ph.D.
University of Alabama at Birmingham
*In partnership with the Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson’s