- Researchers report that high-intensity exercise can help alleviate symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.
- Experts say the benefits are evident both in the early and late stages of the disease.
- They add that exercise helps patients with Parkinson’s disease by improving brain function, balance and mobility.
In their research involving laboratory rodents, neuroscientists from the Faculty of Medicine of the Catholic University, Rome Campus and the A. Gemelli IRCCS Polyclinic Foundation have identified a new mechanism responsible for positive benefits of exercise on brain plasticity.
The scientists reported that activities performed in the early stages of the disease can promote beneficial effects on movement control—even after the exercise routine is discontinued.
They said they believe humans could potentially enjoy the same benefits.
Dr. Alessandro DiRoccosaid a neurologist at Northwell Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, who was not involved in the research Medical news today:
“Although the benefits of exercise in Parkinson’s disease are well established, this important study suggests that exercise may be effective in delaying this progression, reducing aggregates of the abnormal protein alpha-synuclein in the brain. Although there are (currently) a number of drugs and treatments that can alleviate the symptoms of the disease, there is no known treatment to delay the inevitable progression of the disease. Exercise can therefore play a particularly important role in the overall treatment of Parkinson’s disease.”
Experts say exercise plays a vital role in maintaining an overall healthy lifestyle. They also believe that it can improve specific symptoms of some diseases, such as Parkinson’s.
Early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include tremors, unsteady gait, and an overall slowing of physical movements.
Exercise may be one of the best ways to combat the condition, according to Harvard Health Letter.
How does that help?
“Exercise has been proven to boost production neurotrophic factors, such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). These factors play a key role in the growth, survival and maintenance of neurons. They play a key role in the growth of new neurons, protect existing neurons and improve synaptic connections,” he said Jennifer PrescottRN, MSN, CDP, founder of Blue Water Homecare and Hospice.
“Exercise has been shown to improve mitochondrial function and stimulate their biogenesis (creation of new mitochondria). Healthy mitochondria are critical to energy production and overall neuronal health,” said Prescott MNT.
Dr. Daniel Truongneurologist and medical director of the Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Institute at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in California, shared other ways exercise helps with Parkinson’s disease:
Reduction of alpha-synuclein aggregates
Intense exercise reduces the spread of pathological alpha-synuclein clusters in the brain. These aggregates are a hallmark of Parkinson’s disease and lead to the dysfunction and death of neurons.
Preservation of motor control and visuospatial learning
Research suggests that exercise can help preserve motor control and visuospatial learning, which are often impaired in Parkinson’s disease due to degeneration of certain areas of the brain (substantia nigra pars compacta and striatum).
BDNF and NMDA interaction
The study found that BDNF, whose levels increase with exercise, interacts with the NMDA receptor for glutamate, a neurotransmitter involved in learning and memory. This interaction allows neurons in the striatum to respond more efficiently to stimuli, which has benefits that last even after exercise.
Exercise is known to have anti-inflammatory effects, which could be beneficial in Parkinson’s disease.
“Regular exercise helps maintain motor function in (Parkinson’s) patients and can slow the progression of the disease,” he said. Dr. Andrew Feiginexecutive director of the Marlene and Paolo Fresco Institute for Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders at NYU Langone Health in New York.
“We routinely recommend regular exercise for all of our Parkinson’s patients. Of course, patients have different capacities for exercise depending on many factors, including the severity of Parkinson’s disease, but we encourage exercise,” Feigin said. MNT.
“Our team recommends exercise for all our (Parkinson’s) patients,” he added Dr. Melita Petrosianneurologist and director of the Pacific Movement Disorders Center and the Pacific Neuroscience Institute in California.
“In the past, exercise recommendations could be vague, e.g. take a walk from time to time. With a new understanding of the benefits of exercise, we provide more specific guidance: this study and others before it emphasize that exercise should be high-intensity, with previous studies recommending an intensity to reach 80 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate for 30 minutes 3 or 4 times a week.” she said MNT.
“We, of course, advise patients to consult their doctors or cardiologists before starting with high intensity program”, Dr. Petrossian added.
dr. Petrossian said she usually advises exercises that are low or zero impact while maintaining a high intensity. Examples of this type of exercise include:
- power walking
- water aerobics
- exercise bikes
“Also, consistent with previous studies, we recommended progressive resistance exercise with increased weights or repetitions in strength training twice a week,” continued Dr. Petrossian.
“We also advise patients on stretching, balance exercises, core strengthening and skill-based exercises such as yoga, dance, boxing, table tennis and pilates.”
“Exercise can reduce (Parkinson’s disease) symptoms in the short term, improve energy, improve stride length and balance, prevent falls, improve sleep and mood, and improve cognition“, she continued.
“These symptom benefits add up to long-term preventative benefits. With a new study showing reduced alpha-synuclein propagation, BDNF release is neuroprotective. Exercise can also improve blood flow in the brain via angiogenesis.”
In their new study, researchers looked at exercise in the early stages of the disease and reported specific and significant benefits.
Exercise may also be beneficial in later stages, as well as having different goals, experts note.
“In the later stages of Parkinson’s disease, the primary benefits of exercise could potentially shift toward maintaining mobility, strength, balance and flexibility, and improving quality of life,” Truong said.
“As we know exercise can also help manage symptoms like constipation, improve mood and sleep. Practicing balance reduces the risk of falls.”
“However, it is important to note that people in the later stages of Parkinson’s disease often have more serious symptoms and may also have other health problems. Therefore, any exercise program must be carefully designed to ensure safety and effectiveness for the individual’s specific condition and needs.”
— Dr. Daniel Truong, neurologist