Parkinson’s Disease patients can benefit from physical activity

A new comprehensive review published in the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease has found that people living with Parkinson’s disease (PD) may benefit from being physically active. In terms of improving gait and balance and reducing the risk of falling, physical activity proved extremely advantageous.

Since PD prevalence is likely to increase in future, in part due to the life-extending treatments that are now available. Interventions aimed at minimising morbidity are crucial to reducing the strain on the healthcare system and improving the quality of life for PD patients.

It’s hoped these results will encourage patients to become more physically active and that caregivers and healthcare providers will facilitate these activities.

The research team conducted an in-depth analysis of over 100 studies from the past 30 years. This resulted in 868 different outcome measures. These provide a clear picture of the current scientific knowledge regarding the effects of physical activity on people living with PD.

The team grouped the different outcomes into four main categories:

  • Physical capacities – strength and flexibility
  • Physical and cognitive functional capacities – gait, mobility and cognitive functions
  • Clinical symptoms of PD – rigidity, tremor and posture alterations
  • Psychosocial aspects of life – quality of life and health management

By grouping these together the team were able to determine whether physical activity had a positive effect on each individual category. These were further subdivided to look at the specific benefits on a more granular level.

Physical activity was found most effective in terms of benefitting patients’ physical capacity and cognitive functional capacity. Physical capacity included subcategories such as limb strength, endurance, flexibility or range of motion, motor control and metabolic function. More than 55% of all the studies found positive effects in these two main categories. Some of the subcategories, such as upper limb strength saw improvement in almost 67% of all studies.

The results in the subcategories for cognitive function were low. However, researchers noted that there were only nine studies that had measured the cognitive improvements physical activity has on PD patients. It was indicated that further research was needed in this area.

The connection between physical activity and the clinical symptoms of PD and psychosocial aspects of life are less clear. Only 50% and 45.3% of results reported positive effects. In the clinical symptoms of PD category both the highest (motor evaluation, gait and posture alterations) and lowest (bradykinesia, freezing and tremor) effectiveness rates were found across the subcategories.

Professor Christian Duval, who was part of the research team at the University of Quebec said, “Exercise should be a life-long commitment to avoid physical and cognitive decline and our research shows that this is also true for individuals with PD.”

Lead author Martine Lauzé also of the University of Quebec added, “Fortunately, studies show that all people may benefit from being more physically active, no matter their age and condition, it is never too late to start”

The review concluded that health professionals should be more confident about prescribing physical activity to improve the health and quality of life for PD patients. However, the team also admitted that more research needed to be done in certain areas.

Source: Journal of Parkinson’s Disease

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