Sticking to a healthy diet and fitness routine to help mitigate symptoms isn’t just common sense – there is scientific evidence showing why exercise is the best medicine for Parkinson’s disease.
We scoured the most reputable scientific publications available for the latest and greatest in Parkinson’s research, and a universal theme kept popping up time and time again – exercise can vastly improve both motor and nonmotor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
The benefits of exercise for Parkinson’s is something researchers have known about for quite some time. However, it’s only been in recent years that scientists have started to uncover the complicated reasons why. This is groundbreaking because the closer researchers come to uncovering the mysteries of Parkinson’s, the closer they’ll be to finding a cure.
Here is a roundup of the latest developments in Parkinson’s exercise research.
Multi-module exercises are twice as nice for Parkinson’s
Researchers at the University of Kent in Canterbury, U.K., set up a weekly community-based multi-modal exercise regimen for Parkinson’s patients to determine whether the program could improve both physical function and cognitive function. The results, presented at The Physiological Society’s annual conference in December 2019 were positive.
Previous studies have shown that single modality exercise – which basically refers to a single type of exercise, such as running — can improve and help maintain both cognitive and physical function in people with Parkinson’s. However, multi-modal exercise — such as circuit training plus cognitive training — may produce faster and better results.
A total of 20 men and five women (average age of 64 years) with mild-to-moderate Parkinson’s disease participated in the study by attending a 60-minute multi-modal group exercise session every week for over a year. Results were compared to an aged-matched group of 20 older adults without Parkinson’s and 20 people with the disease who did not exercise.
Several health and functional assessments testing participants’ cognitive and physical capabilities were completed at the beginning of the study and then every four months for three years. People in the Parkinson’s group saw little to no cognitive decline over the three-year study span, which was significant given the disease’s tendency to progress over time. Click here to learn more.
The connection between cortisol and non-motor symptoms
Evidence has suggested that the overproduction of the stress hormone cortisol may be a culprit behind the progression of non-motor Parkinson’s symptoms, such as depression and risk behavior. Exercise is associated with a lower production of the stress hormone cortisol in healthy individuals; therefore, researchers believe this may also reduce the risk and rate of Parkinson’s symptom progression.
To test this theory, researchers conducted a small study in which they measured the levels of cortisol in saliva samples collected from eight people with Parkinson’s over six months. The results of the study were published in the journal Movement Disorders in May 2019.
The participants performed high-intensity treadmill exercises, including 5-10 minutes of warm-up, 30 minutes at 80-85% maximum heart rate, followed by 5-10 minutes of cool-down. They exercised an average of two or more days per week and increased their exercise duration and intensity over the first eight weeks of training.
Saliva samples were collected before and after completing the program, and at specific times immediately after waking up and during certain periods throughout the day. Overall, cortisol secretion of people with Parkinson’s more closely resembled that of people without the disease after they had completed the training program. Click here to learn more.
The balancing act between inflammation and aging
Balance training – or doing exercises specifically intended to improve balance – may slow down disease progression for people with Parkinson’s, according to study results published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine in January 2020.l
When humans age, there is a progressive decline in the immune system that results in low-grade inflammation – a process some clinicians refer to as “inflamm-aging.” A major characteristic of “inflamm-aging” is increased levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Cytokines are proteins secreted by specific cells of the immune system to mediate and regulate immunity, inflammation and the production of blood cells.
When people work out on a regular basis, their cells produce more of these cytokines that lower inflammation and improve the immune system. Not only is this beneficial to older adults in general, it could be extraordinarily helpful for people with neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s.
The study recruited 62 participants who were divided into two groups – adults with Parkinson’s participating in balance training vs. older adults participating in balance training who do not have PD. Blood samples were collected from all participants before and after 12 weeks of balance training.
It turns out that the Parkinson’s group had significantly lower levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokine known as tumor necrosis factor alpha, which causes progressive degeneration in dopaminergic neurons and plays an important role in the pathogenesis of Parkinson’s. Click here to learn more.