Study: ‘High-intensity’ exercise may slow Parkinson’s


Anyone who’s serious about exercise knows the quality of a training session is usually more important than its duration.

And a study published this month in JAMA Neurology suggests that’s especially true for Parkinson’s disease patients who are trying to stem the progression of their degenerative neurological condition via increased physical activity.

The randomized clinical trial — which was structured to mimic an FDA-compliant phase 2 randomized medication study — involved 128 Parkinson’s patients who had been diagnosed within the previous five years.

None of the participants was taking medication yet for the disease.

They were divided into three groups:

  • Those who exercised vigorously (80 to 85 percent of maximum heart rate) on a treadmill three days a week for six months
  • Those who exercised moderately (60 to 65 percent of maximum heart rate) on a treadmill three days a week for six months
  • Those who did not exercise (the control group)

At the conclusion of the six months, both the moderate exercisers and nonexercisers exhibited a decline in the baseline status of their disease.

But, as The New York Times noted, “the group that had worked out intensely showed almost no decline in their disease scores.”

Thus, the study’s authors concluded “high-intensity treadmill exercise may be feasible and prescribed safely for patients with Parkinson’s disease (and that) an efficacy trial is warranted to determine whether high-intensity treadmill exercise produces meaningful clinical benefits.”

Confirming what has been long theorized

Of course, the study’s findings supported what many have theorized for years based on anecdotal observation: Physical activity is beneficial for those with Parkinson’s.

From walking and dancing to yoga and Pilates, the activities encouraged by Parkinson’s advocacy organizations run the gamut.

One form of training for Parkinson’s sufferers that’s become increasingly popular is noncontact boxing. That’s because it provides benefits on multiple levels:

  • Cognitive: remembering the sequence of punches — jabs, uppercuts, hooks — while combining it with proper shoulder placement, foot movement, hip rotation, etc., gives participants a great mental workout
  • Physical: boxing improves all aspects of one’s fitness — strength, flexibility, balance and endurance
  • Emotional: symptoms of Parkinson’s can be frustrating to live with — and this gives sufferers a means to vent that frustration

Want more evidence of boxing’s efficacy on Parkinson’s?

Famed boxing trainer and former professional boxer Freddie Roach, 57, has been suffering from Parkinson’s symptoms for 30 years. He displayed symptoms toward the end of his fighting days and attributes the disease’s onset to blows in the ring.

However, these days when he’s in the ring training his world-class stable of fighters (which includes champions such as Manny Pacquiao and Miguel Cotto), his tremors disappear when he slips on the gloves or mitts.

More advances in the Parkinson’s battle

For Parkinson’s sufferers who don’t find any relief from physical activity or medication, advances in medical technology have given them options.

At Cleveland Clinic Florida’s Neurological Institute, director and neurosurgeon Dr. Badih Adada uses the facility’s brand-new ROSA Brain robotic surgery system to perform minimally invasive brain surgery on those with epilepsy, Parkinson’s, essential tremors and other neurological disorders.

Adada has found that this form of deep-brain stimulation — in which the ROSA functions as a “GPS-like guide” to find the precise neurostimulators that need to be blocked in order to prevent tremors — has been “remarkably effective for patients who don’t respond to medication for their symptoms.”



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