World Parkinson's Day 2018 takes place on Wednesday, April 11, aiming to raise awareness of the condition and support the organisations trying to eradicate the disease.
Parkinson's disease is a progressive condition that often results in impaired mobility, a decrease in health-related quality of life, and death, and there is currently no known cure. However, research has suggested that exercise can play an important role in helping to treat the condition and delay its progression. Here we round up three key studies that have been released since last year's World Parkinson's Day which suggest how exercise may benefit patients now and in the future.
Meeting exercise guidelines could delay progression
A 2017 study found that meeting the current exercise guidelines of 150 minutes of physical activity a week, or 2.5 hours, could slow down the effects of the condition, with these participants showing a smaller decline in quality of life and mobility over a two-year period compared to those who didn't exercise or exercised less.
In addition, those who started exercising after the study started also showed a slower decline in quality of life and mobility, suggesting that even those who start exercising later can still reap benefits.
High-intensity exercise could bring the biggest benefits
Although it had previously been thought high-intensity exercise was too physically demanding for Parkinson's patients, the first study to test the effects of this type of exercise on patients found that it is not only safe but could also decrease the worsening of symptoms. The study asked participants to work out three times weekly for six months at either high intensity, which is 80 to 85 percent of maximum heart rate, or moderate intensity, 60 to 65 percent of maximum heart rate, or not at all, finding that those who were in the high intensity group were the only ones not to see a worsening of symptoms, with those who didn't work out at all showing the biggest declines.
Virtual Reality with exercise could boost brain functioning
A very small-scale study by researchers at Tel Aviv University found that using a therapy which combines exercise with virtual reality could reduce the risk of falling for Parkinson's patients. The team split 17 participants into two groups; one took part in treadmill training which involved walking on a treadmill, while the other took part in a program that combined treadmill training with a Virtual Reality "game," in which participants viewed their feet walking in a city or park environment and learned how to deal with obstacles in the virtual environment. After exercising three times a week for about an hour each time over a six-week period, those in the Virtual Reality group had a lower incidence of falls, while brain changes indicated better motor control and improvements in completing cognitively demanding tasks, with the team suggesting that exercise which also incorporates cognitive components may have a greater effect on brain function.