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Lack of healthy levels of exercise in older women with Parkinson’s disease: a US study

Older women with Parkinson’s disease more likely to be sedentary during the day, spend less time engaging in healthy physical activity—especially moderate-to-vigorous exercise associated with slower progression—than women without neurodegenerative disease.

Female patients in their 70s also spent more time than their counterparts in low-intensity activities such as slow walking, but not in more intense regular exercise, according to an analysis of data from a large US study of more than 16,700 women.

“Given several large practice tests have suggested effects of regular aerobic physical activity on disease modification for people with (Parkinson’s disease), optimizing physical activity levels for this population may be critical to managing symptoms, slowing the progression of disability, and reducing the risk of other comorbidities,” the researchers wrote.

“Prevention strategies to promote physical activity should be emphasized to improve health and limit the progression of disability in this population of women,” they added.

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The woman is shown exercising by walking fast.

Studies support the importance of regular exercise in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease

The study, “Association of Parkinson’s Disease Status with Accelerometer-Assessed Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior in Older Women: The Women’s Health Study (WHS)”, was published in Reports on Preventive Medicine.

As Parkinson’s disease progresses and disability accumulates, patients become less active than people their age in the general population.

But a lot of evidence shows that regular exercise is beneficial for neurological diseases like Parkinson’s, as it helps slow the progression of disability and eases both motor sickness and non-motor symptoms.

Such benefits may be especially important for women, who tend to live longer and be less physically active than men their age, making women with Parkinson’s “particularly vulnerable to worsening disability,” the researchers wrote.

Physical activity patterns in women with Parkinson’s disease are also not as well understood as in male patients. Because Parkinson’s disease is more common in men, women have been underrepresented in studies on the topic, the researchers noted.

Daily exercise recorded in 16,741 women, 80 with Parkinson’s disease

Scientists evaluated physical activity data for women involved in A study on women’s health (WHS), a large randomized controlled clinical trial involving nearly 40,000 US health professionals aged 45 years and older

Designed to evaluate low-dose aspirin and vitamin E in the prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer, the WHS ran from 1993 to 2004. Most participants then agreed to be followed in a long-term, continuous observational study.

As part of a substudy conducted in 2011-15, some women were asked to wear an accelerometer, a device that measures acceleration, for a week to collect data related to physical activity.

This study’s analyzes involved data from 16,741 of those women, mostly white and middle-aged around 70 at the time of accelerometer use. Eighty of them were diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

During one week, the women wore the accelerometer on their hip belt for an average of 14.9 hours each day. Different types of physical activity were categorized based on the energy expenditure they required according to accelerometer recordings.

Women with Parkinson’s disease engaged in significantly less physical activity overall than the group without Parkinson’s disease, statistical analysis adjusted for age and other potential confounding factors.

On average, 23.2 minutes more sitting, 27.3 minutes less intense exercise

Consistently, these patients spent more time sitting — an average of 23.2 minutes per day — than the other women in the study.

They also spent an average of 10.5 minutes more each day engaging in low, physical activities of light intensitywhich includes household activities such as washing and drying dishes or making the bed, as well as walking slowly.

With so-called high light intensity physical activity, which ranges from slow dancing and leisurely walking to vacuuming, they spend about 6.4 minutes less than their healthy counterparts.

27.3 minutes less were spent per day in activities of moderate to high intensity, such as brisk walking, running or swimming.

All of these differences were statistically significant, the researchers noted, meaning they are unlikely to be due to chance or random factors.

“The results of this study show that women with (Parkinson’s) disease may be particularly vulnerable to worsening disability, as they spend significantly more time sitting and less time per day in (moderate to vigorous exercise), which has been shown to be a key ingredient in managing the progression of motor symptoms ” in Parkinson’s disease, the researchers wrote.

The researchers noted that one finding — that women with Parkinson’s disease spend more time doing light activities — is new, and its implications have yet to be assessed.

“Future research investigating whether light-intensity physical activity improves or compromises health should be explored to inform future prevention strategies,” they wrote.

The predominance of white women with a higher socioeconomic status in the study is a limitation, the research pointed out, because “it may result in a healthier, more active sample of women.

“Future work on more racially diverse populations is needed to reduce further health-related disparities,” they wrote.

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