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People with Parkinson’s Benefit from High-Intensity Exercise

A randomized controlled trial demonstrates clearly that people who exercise at high intensity delay progression of Parkinson's disease symptoms.
People with Parkinson’s Benefit from High-Intensity Exercise
Person with Parkinson’s disease spilling coffee from shaking

Patients with the movement disorder called Parkinson’s disease often develop resistance to treatment after several years. Unfortunately, the usual consequence is worsening symptoms that make daily life more challenging.

High-Intensity Exercise for Early Parkinson’s Disease:

A new study in JAMA Neurology demonstrates that high-intensity exercise can slow the progression of the condition (Schenkman et al,JAMA Neurology, online Dec. 11, 2017). The study included 128 volunteers in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease. They were not yet taking medication.

Before the study began, the scientists rated participants’ symptoms on a scale of 0 to 108. All had a score of around 20 at the outset. Then volunteers were randomly assigned to exercise three times a week at high intensity, moderate intensity or not at all.

The Results of the Intervention:

The non-exercising group of patients with Parkinson’s disease got worse by 3 points on the scale after six months. People assigned to exercise at moderate intensity had a 1.5 point worsening, on average. However, those exercising at high intensity, 80 to 85 percent of maximum heart rate, did not change at all. In sum, this is a clear demonstration that exercise is good medicine.

Learn More:

We are encouraged to read that people with Parkinson’s disease thrive if they exercise vigorously. This is not the first study to show these benefits. Earlier in 2017, we interviewed Dr. Jay Alberts and Kathy Helmuth about their work using intense exercise to slow or even reverse symptoms of Parkinson’s.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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