High-intensity exercise benefits Parkinson’s sufferers

Exciting new research has provided some hope for people with Parkinson’s disease.

High-intensity exercise performed three times a week can decrease the worsening of motor symptoms in people in the early stages of the disease.

That’s the finding of a recent study by scientists at Northwestern Medicine and University of Colorado in the United States.

Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system. It mainly affects the motor system, meaning that symptoms include shaking, difficulty walking, slow movements and rigidity. In the advantaged stages, dementia is common. Parkinson’s is the second most common neurological disease in Australia, affecting 80,000  of us.

Counter to previous thinking that said people with Parkinson’s could not handle high-intensity exercise, this study found that not only is it safe, it is very beneficial.

“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 per cent maximum. It is that simple,” said Daniel Corcos, one of the lead authors of the study.

The study

Researchers enrolled 128 participants between the ages of 40–80, all in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease.

Using treadmills, the participants exercised three times a week for six months. One group did high-intensity exercise at 80–85 per cent of maximum heart rate. Another group did moderate intensity exercise at 60–65 per cent of maximum heart rate.

Both of these groups were compared to a control group who did no exercise.

After the trial period was up, the researchers rated each participant on a Parkinson’s disease scale that ranges from 0 to 108, with the higher number indicating more severe symptoms.

The results showed that those in the high-intensity group scored the same before exercise and afterwards, meaning they didn’t get worse. The moderate exercise group, however, got worse by 1.5 points. Finally, the no-exercise group worsened by three points.

Since Parkinson’s is a degenerative disease, stopping people from getting worse is significant. Further research will explore the optimum exercise regimens for people suffering from the disease.

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



Schenkman, M. et al. (2017.) ‘Effect of High-Intensity Treadmill Exercise on Motor Symptoms in Patients With De Novo Parkinson Disease: A Phase 2 Randomized Clinical Trial.’
JAMA Neurol. 2017 Dec 11. doi: 10.1001/jamaneurol.2017.3517. [Epub ahead of print]

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