Parkinson’s Disease Progression Slowed by Exercise

Getting regular exercise is one of the most important steps older adults can take, besides eating a healthy diet and not smoking, to stay well and be able to participate in all the activities they enjoy.  And new research has found that working out may also help slow the progression of Parkinson’s Disease and reduce the severity of some symptoms including tremors and a slow or shuffling gait.

The Northwestern University study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s JAMA Neurology, found that exercise didn’t just make participants feel better; those who pushed themselves 4 to 6 times a week found their symptoms subsided for about 20 minutes following activity.  And at the end of the six month study, volunteers who exercised most intensely maintained their original scores on the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale.  Those who exercised moderately worsen only slightly, by an average of 1.5 points but those who did no exercise worsened by an average of 3 points.  The scale measures mood, activity level and motor skills in Parkinson’s patients.

How much activity is considered intense for older adults?  For some it might be a brisk walk while for others it might take running on a treadmill or walking uphill to get the heart rate up significantly, depending on fitness level.   According to the American Heart Association, your maximum heart rate is about 220 minus your age.   The target heart rate for moderate activity is about 50 to 70 per cent of maximum heart rate and is between 70 and 85 per cent for intense physical activity.  For an average 65 year-old, the maximum heart rate in 155 bpm and the target heart rate is between 78-132 bmp. 

As with any new exercise program, it’s important to talk with a doctor first and start out aiming for the lower end of your target heart rate and slowly ramp up to the 80 per cent zone.   You can check your heart rate manually using your pulse on the inside of the wrist; count beats for 30 seconds and multiply by 2 to find your beats per minute.  Or consider investing in a wearable activity tracker that makes finding your heart rate fast and easy.  Could make an excellent father’s day gift!

Read more about how high-intensity exercise can delay Parkinson’s progression here