Can exercise help people with Parkinson’s disease?

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Exercise may help people with Parkinson’s disease improve their balance, ability to move around and quality of life, even if it does not reduce their risk of falling, according to a new study published in the online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

For the study, 231 people with Parkinson’s disease either received their usual care or took part in an exercise programme of 40 to 60 minutes of balance and leg strengthening exercises three times a week for six months. This minimally-supervised exercise programme was prescribed and monitored by a physical therapist with participants performing most of the exercise at home. On average, 13% of the exercise sessions were supervised by a physical therapist.


Falling is a common problem for people with Parkinson’s, with 60% falling each year and two-thirds of those falling repeatedly. “The resulting injuries, pain, limitations of activity and fear of falling again can really affect people’s health and well-being,” says study author Colleen G Canning of the University of Sydney in Australia.


Compared to those in the control group, the number of falls by participants who exercised was reduced in those with less severe Parkinson’s disease, but not in those with more severe disease. For those with less severe disease a 70% reduction in falls was reported in those who exercised compared to those who did not.


“These results suggest that minimally supervised exercise programmes aimed at reducing falls in people with Parkinson’s should be started early in the disease process,” Canning says.


Overall, those who took part in the exercise programme performed better on tests of ability to move around and balance, had a lower fear of falls and reported better overall mood and quality of life.


The study was supported by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council and the Harry Secomb Foundation.

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