High Intensity Exercise Helps Slow Progression of Parkinson’s

high intensity treadmill running

The Davis Phinney Foundation has long promoted exercise as an intervention people with Parkinson’s can use to live well each day. Results recently published by a Davis Phinney Foundation funded researcher help substantiate the positive impacts of exercise and give people with Parkinson’s even more incentive to stay on track with exercise programs.

Dr. Margaret Schenkman of the University of Colorado School of Medicine is the lead author of this work, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The article outlines a phase 2 clinical trial of high-intensity treadmill exercise in people with Parkinson’s that was performed with colleagues at multiple sites, including Chicago, Denver and Pittsburgh.

Participants were invited to take part in the study if they did not exercise at moderate intensity more than three times per week, were not on dopaminergic medications and had been diagnosed within five years of the start of the study. The 128 individuals were randomized into three groups.

The high-intensity group was instructed to exercise on a treadmill four days a week at 80%-85% of their maximum heart rate.

A moderate-intensity group was instructed to exercise on a treadmill four days per week at 60%-65% of their maximum heart rate. The target for success was a frequency of three days per week.

The third group of individuals was comprised of a wait-list control group that received usual medical care but was not prescribed an exercise intervention.

After six months, the high-intensity exercise group had significantly lower reductions in motor ability scores than the control group, indicating a potential slowing of disease progression. The moderate-intensity group did not see sufficient benefit to warrant further study.

The study establishes that high-intensity treadmill exercise is safe for people with Parkinson’s and clinicians can safely prescribe this activity for people under their care. As with any motorized exercise equipment, it’s important to be aware of the chance of falling. Make sure you only use it if you feel safe. The study also sets the stage for a larger phase 3 trial to determine the efficacy and clinical benefits of high-intensity exercise.

Of course, it’s important to check with your own health care provider prior to beginning a new physical activity program, but Dr. Schenkman’s work suggests that you’re likely to experience benefits from becoming active.

Discussing her research, Dr. Schenkman told us,

“A growing body of work demonstrates the importance of exercise for living well today with Parkinson’s.  Because people with Parkinson’s may have a number of different symptoms, the right exercise prescription for an individual may include some combination of endurance, strength and balance training.  The findings of this investigation indicate that the endurance training should be at high-intensity to the extent possible.” 

If you’d like to learn more about how exercise can help you live well today with Parkinson’s, request a copy of our Every Victory Counts® manual here.

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