Get moving to put the brakes on early Parkinson’s

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In a new study from Kyoto University, researchers found that people with early-stage Parkinson’s disease who regularly got one to two hours of moderate exercise twice a week, like walking or gardening, may have less trouble balancing, walking and doing daily activities later.

They found that those who exercised regularly over five years did better on cognitive tests and had slower progression of the disease in several aspects.

In the study, the team looked at 237 people with early-stage Parkinson’s. They had an average age of 63 and were followed by researchers for up to six years.

Participants’ exercise levels at the start of the study were determined using a questionnaire that measures time and intensity during the previous week of leisure activity, like walking and biking; household activity, like gardening; and occupational activity, like taking care of others.

Common cognitive tests were used to measure people’s verbal and memory skills and how much time it took to complete mental tasks.

The team found that people’s physical activity level at the start of the study was not associated with the progression of their Parkinson’s later on.

Instead, they found it was more important to maintain physical activity over time.

People who got at least four hours per week of moderate to vigorous exercise like walking or dancing had a slower decline in balancing and walking five years later, compared to those who did not get that much exercise.

Researchers used a common test to rate each person’s Parkinson’s symptoms on a scale of zero to four, with higher scores indicating more severe impairment.

People who got below-average levels of moderate to vigorous exercise, or less than one to two hours, once or twice a week, increased from an average score of 1.4 to 3.7 over six years.

That’s compared to those who got above-average levels of moderate to vigorous exercise, who on average increased from a score of 1.4 to 3.0 during that time.

The team says although medications can provide people with Parkinson’s some symptom relief, they haven’t been shown to slow the progression of the disease.

They found that regular physical activity, including household tasks and moderate exercise, may actually improve the course of the disease over the long run. Best of all, exercise is low cost and has few side effects.

A limitation of the study is that activity levels were self-reported and may not be accurate.

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The study is published in Neurology. One author of the study is Kazuto Tsukita, MD.

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