A new study finds that people with Parkinson's disease (PD) who regularly exercised two and a half hours per week had an improved quality of life and mobility over two years compared to people who did not exercise or who exercised less. Furthermore, people with more advanced PD benefitted the most from regular exercise. The results appear in the March edition of the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease.
Many studies have found that exercise can improve PD symptoms. But in a research setting, exercise takes place in a structured and supervised program, and the effects usually are measured over a period of six months or less. Researchers led by Miriam R. Rafferty, Ph.D., at Northwestern University, wanted to understand whether people with PD who start exercising on their own, or maintain an established routine, experience benefits over the long term.
The scientists made use of health records from study participants in the Parkinson’s Foundation Parkinson’s Outcome Project, the largest clinical study of Parkinson's in the world, which began collecting demographic and health data on people with PD in 2009.
For the new study, the researchers analyzed records from 3,408 study participants who had been evaluated three years in a row. They divided the participants into three groups according to self-reported exercise: less than 2.5 hours per week for the entire study period; 2.5 hours per week beginning after their first evaluation; 2.5 hours per week or more throughout. Participants kept track of their own exercise time and answered a questionnaire about changes in PD-related quality of life. At each office visit, their mobility was tested with a timed test of getting out of a chair and walking.
- After two years, as compared to participants who didn’t exercise, those who exercised 2.5 a week or more, reported less of a decline on a quality of life questionnaire and showed less decline in a mobility test.
- Participants with advanced PD experienced more dramatic benefits from exercise than those with milder PD.
What Does It Mean?
Although the results of this study are modest, the results suggest that starting to exercise at any point in PD can minimize declines in quality of life and mobility. This is important as PD is a chronic progressive disease that worsens over time.
In this study, participants did a variety of activities of different intensities. Informal, self-motivated exercise for at least 2.5 hours a week was associated with measurable benefits over the course of two years, even for those who had not exercised before the study. Further research is underway among those in the Parkinson’s Outcome Project to see if specific exercises lead to better outcomes in quality of life.
A limitation of this study was that not everyone in the Parkinson’s Outcome Project had the number of visits necessary to be included in the study; moreover, those that were included tended to be younger and started with a better quality of life than average participant in the Outcome Project. Nevertheless, the finding that exercise provides benefits to people, including those with advanced PD, underscores the importance of encouraging physical activity throughout the disease course.
Rafferty MR, Schmidt PD, Luo ST, et al. (2017). Regular Exercise, Quality of Life, and Mobility in Parkinson’s Disease: A Longitudinal Analysis of National Parkinson Foundation Quality Improvement Initiative Data. Journal of Parkinson’s Disease 7: 193-202, DOI 10.3233/JPD-160912