Study: Exercising 2.5 hours per week slows Parkinson’s Disease

In a research study published in the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease, researchers from Northwestern University determined that that people who exercised regularly had significantly slower declines in HRQL (health related quality of life) and mobility over a two-year period.

While this is not particularly groundbreaking information, the study is significant in that it did look at a larger group of patients (3400) over a longer period of time (2 years).

The most important finding from this study is that while exercise benefits everyone with Parkinson’s Disease, the health benefit of exercise is even more significant for people in more advanced stages of Parkinson’s Disease. This should be a call to action for making exercise and physical activity more accessible to Parkinson’s patients with more severe disability.

Quotes from the press release at https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-03/ip-e2h032317.php :

An unanticipated finding from the study was that the HRQL benefit associated with 30-minute increases in exercise per week was greatest in people with advanced PD. These data have significant implications for making exercise and physical activity more accessible to people with more severe disability. People with more advanced PD may have poor access to regular exercise, as their mobility impairments would limit their independent participation in existing community and group exercise programs.

Other key points:

Lead investigator Miriam R. Rafferty, PhD, of Northwestern University and Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, describes the main findings of the study. “We found that people with Parkinson’s disease who maintained exercise 150 minutes per week had a smaller decline in quality of life and mobility over two years compared to people who did not exercise or exercised less.”

Over 3400 participants provided data over two years, with information collected during at least three clinic visits.

Although this study did not determine which type of exercise is best, it suggests that any type of exercise done with a “dose” of at least 150 minutes per week is better than not exercising.

Original Study: Regular Exercise, Quality of Life, and Mobility in Parkinson’s Disease: A Longitudinal Analysis of National Parkinson Foundation Quality Improvement Initiative Data http://dx.doi.org/10.3233/JPD-160912

I haven’t spent EUR 27.50 to read the full study, but the conclusion that the health benefit of exercise is even more significant for people in more advanced stages of Parkinson’s Disease is definitely a call to action. It emphasizes the fact that as long as you are breathing, it is never to late to begin an exercise program. You might not be out running a marathon next year, but you will definitely have a better quality of life than if you do not exercise.

2.5 hours per week may seem like a lot of time. Structured activities such as group classes, or sessions with a Physical Therapist and/or Personal Trainer are highly recommended to meet this goal. (Programs like Rock Steady Boxing offer multiple levels of classes, including classes for people in more advanced stages of PD.)

Keep in mind that 2.5 hours (150 minutes) per week is not a magic number for PD. This amount is part of the minimum recommendations published by respected organizations, including the World Health Organization (WHO), USA Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and American Heart Association (AHA). These recommendations are not specific to PD, they are for everyone. And they are great minimum levels to work toward when beginning a fitness journey.

A few things to keep in mind:

The CDC and AHA recommend a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise 5 days per week, and muscle strengthening activities at least 2 days per week.

These are minimum recommendations, not maximum, and not necessarily optimal.

Push yourself, but learn your limits and avoid injury. Progressive training principles, and gradual increases in time and intensity are recommended.

The CDC says “More time equals more health benefits. If you go beyond 300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity, or 150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity activity, you’ll gain even more health benefits.” See: https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/older_adults/index.htm

The National Parkinson Foundation says “When it comes to exercise and PD, greater intensity equals greater benefits. Experts recommend that people with Parkinson’s, particularly young onset or those in the early stages, exercise with intensity for as long as possible as often as possible. Your doctor might recommend an hour a day three or four times a week, but most researchers think that the more you do, the more you benefit.” See http://www.parkinson.org/understanding-parkinsons/treatment/Exercise/Neuroprotective-Benefits-of-Exercise

How Much Should I Exercise for PD?

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