What we know about the exact effect of exercise on Parkinson’s disease symptoms is still evolving. While it’s agreed that exercise benefits people with PD, researchers are still uncovering which type of exercise is good for what symptom and why.

This year brought us further in the field of PD and exercise research. Here’s a round-up of the 2018 exercise studies we thought were promising for people with Parkinson’s.

High-intensity cycling on a stationary bike improves functioning of arms, hands and fingers

A study in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience followed 19 adults with mild to moderate Parkinson’s disease symptoms. During that time, participants rode a stationary bicycle three times a week. The exercise sessions started at 20 minutes per day at 60% of maximum heart rate intensity. Every week. the researchers then increased the exercise sessions by five minutes and 5% heart rate intensity until participants reached 40 minutes of training daily at 80% intensity.

At the end of 12-weeks of high-intensity cycling, researchers found that participants had better motor control in their upper limbs as shown by their ability to draw lines on a screen using a computer stylus, more smoothly and efficiently.

Successful group fitness classes for people with PD have three things in common: support, variety and a sense of community

Researchers in a study in Complementary Therapies in Medicine interviewed 14 people with Parkinson’s who regularly attended the Fitness for Parkinson’s group class at Long Island University. Participants took part in a 45-minute focus group to give their perspective on the nature of the classes and the impact of attendance on their daily lives.

The study findings show that group exercise classes must incorporate certain features in order to be relevant for people with Parkinson’s. These include fostering a positive and nurturing environment for attendees, developing an exercise plan that is varied and tailored for the differing abilities of participants with PD, and emphasizing community. If these three factors are in place, people with PD are more likely to attend the classes long-term, according to the study.

Women with PD benefit from a different exercise regimen than men

In Frontiers for Physiology, researchers found that women with PD benefit from an exercise regimen tailored to them. According to the study authors, this is because PD symptoms affect women differently from men due in part to differing brain functioning and the action of certain hormones that are more prevalent in women, such as estrogen.

Current guidelines for both men and women with Parkinson’s generally recommend 30-60 minutes of aerobic activity, three to four days a week; resistance training of 1-3 sets of 8-12 reps, three to four days a week; and three days a week of stretching for up to 30 seconds a stretch.

Within the same categories of aerobic activity, resistance training and stretching, the study proposes new guidelines for frequency of exercise for women with PD. For aerobic activity, researchers suggest that women begin at 1-2 days a week and progress to four or more days. Resistance activity should begin at 1-2 days a week and progress to 2-3 days a week for women. Lastly, the study recommends that women do stretching to maintain flexibility anywhere from 3-5 days a week.

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