The SPARX3 Trial: Exploring Whether Exercise Alters Parkinson’s Progression 

Sparx3 Logo on a blue background. The logo is the words "SPARX 3: Study in Parkinson's Disease of Exercise Phase 3 Clinical Trial." The word SPARX 3 is stylized as SP RX in kelly green Times New Roman font, the 3 in handwritten black font, and the A represented by a walking woman. Behind the logo is a line of grey people (graphic) walking. They all have different body shapes and genders.

Regular exercise helps people with Parkinson’s manage motor and non-motor symptoms. Many types of exercise–including weight training, stretching/flexibility training, and aerobic exercise–show benefits in clinical trials. 

In addition to symptomatic benefits, there is evidence that exercise may slow Parkinson’s progression. You can find links to examples of this evidence at the end of this post. 

Both moderate- and high-intensity exercise show that they might slow symptom progression, but it is not clear which intensity is more beneficial. The SPARX3 trial aims to answer this question and explore whether more exercise alters Parkinson’s progression.

SPARX3 TRIAL OVERVIEW 

To evaluate the differences between exercise intensity levels and whether exercise alters Parkinson’s progression, the SPARX3 study team will randomly assign participants to one of two groups: a high-intensity treadmill exercise group in which participants will exercise to 80-85% of their maximum heart rate, and a low-intensity treadmill exercise group in which participants will exercise to 60-65% of their maximum heart rate.  

Study participants will exercise 4x/week for 30 minutes at their group’s target heart rate level for 18 months. Participants will exercise on a treadmill with an adjustable incline to help maintain the target heart rate. Participants will wear a heart rate monitor to track heart rate, steps, and gait cadence.  

Initial exercise sessions will be supervised at a study site. Once participants are trained and understand their exercise routine, they’ll be able to exercise at home or at a fitness center of their choice. Approximately one monthly workout session will occur at a study site to help researchers collect the needed data. 

OTHER DETAILS 

  • The study is being conducted at more than 20 locations in the US and Canada. A list of study locations is available on the study webpage.
  • Participating in this trial should cost you little or no money. To help improve adherence to the exercise schedule, the study will pay for a gym membership or an at-home treadmill if needed. If the study supplies you with a treadmill, you’ll keep it once the trial is over. Travel assistance may be available if you need it. 
  • Participants will have two DaTscans: one at the start of the trial and one at the end to evaluate whether exercise has any change to the rate of dopamine binding in the brain. 
  • This study has multiple interesting secondary outcome measures, including brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) measurements in the blood and various measurements associated with gait. BDNF tends to be reduced in people with Parkinson’s, but it may be increased by exercise. Low levels of BDNF are associated with cognitive decline. 
  • The study investigators will also measure step cadence. This is in part because evidence from cycling studies suggests cadence may influence how beneficial cycling is for people with Parkinson’s.  
  • Participants will be encouraged (but not required) to participate in PD GENEration and PPMI. This will allow SPARX3 researchers to integrate data from other studies. 

WHO CAN PARTICIPATE? 

There are some requirements to participate in this study:

  • You must have had a diagnosis of idiopathic Parkinson’s within three years. 
  • You must be at less than stage three on the Hoehn and Yahr rating scale. 
  • You must be 40–80 years old. 

There are also some restrictions:

  • You cannot be taking Parkinson’s medications. 
  • You cannot be expected to require Parkinson’s medication within six months of trial enrollment. 
  • You cannot have used Parkinson’s medication within 60 days of enrolling as a participant. 
  • You cannot have used Parkinson’s medication for longer than 60 days in the past. 

The lists above are not comprehensive. A complete list of eligibility criteria is available on the study’s page on clinicaltrials.gov

WHY YOU SHOULD CONSIDER PARTICIPATING IN RESEARCH  

Participating in clinical trials has many benefits. 

For example, as a clinical research participant, you will have more exposure to Parkinson’s experts. You will also be contributing to advancing understanding of Parkinson’s, which can provide a sense of purpose.  

REASONS TO CONSIDER PARTICIPATING IN SPARX3 

In the SPARX3 trial, you’ll learn about your capacity for exercise and get to work—for free—with Parkinson’s exercise experts. Depending on your needs and the resources in your area, you may be eligible to receive a treadmill or a gym membership from the study at no cost. 

Moreover, the SPARX3 trial is well-regarded by the research community. For example, in a 2022 review of trials focusing on exercise in Parkinson’s, Schootemeijer et al. wrote, “The SPARX3 trial […] is well designed and adequately powered [and] will inform us on both the clinical and the potential disease-modifying effects of high-intensity aerobic exercise (compared to moderate intensity aerobic exercise).”  

Finally, while we can’t know what the results of this trial will be, SPARX3 may be the first trial to demonstrate clear evidence of a way to slow Parkinson’s progression. Being on the cutting edge and supporting such critical advances can be deeply satisfying. 

For more information about the SPARX3 trial or to sign up today, visit the study’s website. And, as always, if you have any questions or need help, please email us at blog@dpf.org. 

EVIDENCE FOR EXERCISE’S BENEFITS FROM PREVIOUS TRIALS 

The Phase II SPARX Trial 

Webinar with Dr. Bloem and Dr. Darweesh about the Slow-SPEED study 

Jay Alberts Research Timeline Regarding Cycling and Parkinson’s 

Selection of Davis Phinney Foundation Exercise Resources 

Exercise-enhanced Neuroplasticity Targeting Motor and Cognitive Circuitry in Parkinson’s 

Phase I/II Randomized Trial of Aerobic Exercise in Parkinson’s Disease in a Community Setting 

The Effect of Long-Term Tai Chi Training on Parkinson’s 

 

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