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Smiling woman on treadmill in gym
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Walking With Parkinson’s

Can you think of an easy way to boost your overall health and happiness, while slowing down the progression of Parkinson’s disease? Don’t worry. We’ll walk you through it.

Life with Parkinson’s isn’t easy, but you can navigate the difficult terrain of this disease by making a commitment to exercise daily.

If fitness isn’t your forte, don’t sweat it. You don’t have to run marathons to reap the benefits of a healthier lifestyle. We encourage you to lace up those sneakers and give walking a try.

For people with Parkinson’s, walking every day can drastically improve your ability to live an independent and fulfilling life. Research has found that just 20 to 30 minutes of brisk walking daily may slow the progression of Parkinson’s symptoms, while improving gait, balance, tremor and flexibility.

Just ask Dr. Ergun Uc of the University of Iowa and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Iowa City. His 2014 study concluded that people with mild to moderate Parkinson’s Disease improved their mobility, motor function, mood, fatigue levels and overall quality of life after six months of taking regular aerobic walks.

Roughly 60 people with PD took part in the study, which entailed walking at moderate intensity while wearing heart rate monitors three times a week for 45 minutes per session for six months. The participants also took tests that measured their motor function, aerobic fitness, mood, tiredness, memory and thinking abilities.

The average walking speed was about 2.9 miles per hour, and participants were exercising at 47 percent of their heart rate reserve, which qualifies as moderate intensity aerobic exercise.

The study found that brisk walking improved motor function and mood by 15 percent, attention and response control scores by 14 percent, reduced tiredness by 11 percent, and increased aerobic fitness and gait speed by 7 percent.

Compelling reasons to try treadmill walking

Treadmill walking has shown benefits to improving Parkinson’s symptoms, particularly gait. It is often encouraged for those more advanced in their disease who may otherwise struggle with navigating turns.

In 2010, researchers from the U.K.-based nonprofit Cochrane analyzed data from eight trials featuring 203 people with Parkinson’s.

They compared treadmill training vs. no treadmill training, using effects on walking speed, stride length, number of steps per minute (cadence) and walking distance to measure improvement in gait. Treadmill training had a positive impact on each of these measurements, apart from cadence.

In 2011, researchers at the University of Maryland Medical Center found that Parkinson’s patients who walked on a treadmill three times a week for three months at a comfortable speed for a longer duration improved their gait more than patients who walked for less time but at an increased speed and incline.

The study compared 67 people with Parkinson’s disease who were randomly assigned to one of three groups: walking on a treadmill at low intensity for 50 minutes; higher-intensity treadmill training to improve cardiovascular fitness for 30 minutes; and using weights and stretching exercises to improve muscle strength and range of motion.

Researchers measured participants’ cardiovascular fitness before and after training and found cardiovascular improvement in both the low- and high-intensity groups.

“We saw positive effects with all three types of exercise, but the low-intensity training showed the most consistent improvement in gait and mobility,” said Dr. Lisa Shulman, principal investigator and professor of neurology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

3 tips for using a treadmill safely

1. Don’t get on a treadmill while the belt is moving at full speed. Clip the safety stop cord onto your clothing so that it will stop the treadmill if you stumble or fall. Start the treadmill at a slow rate of speed, then increase as needed.

2. Avoid hunching your shoulder, looking down or leaning forward. This reinforces poor posture and walking habits, and can lead to low back, neck and shoulder pain. Good walking posture is with the head up and eyes forward.

3. Take it one step at a time. The right way to walk is to strike with the heel in front while the rest of the forward foot is slightly off the ground. Then you roll through the step from heel to toe. By the time the toe is on the ground, you are midway into the next step.

Watch our Expert Q&A: Walking with Parkinson’s – Click here.

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