Despite its discovery in the 1800’s and advanced understanding of the underlying pathological issues in the 20th century, comparatively little advancement has been made in finding a cure for Parkinson’s disease. The condition affects over 6 million people worldwide and annually claims nearly 120,000 lives, making it a serious concern for the healthcare community. Without a cure, the bulk of medical advancements have been geared towards both early detection of the disease and mitigating its symptoms. While scientists don’t appear any closer to an ultimate solution, recent research has uncovered a valuable tool in slowing the disease’s progression in at least some patients.
Daniel Corcos, a human movement sciences expert and physical therapy professor at Chicago’s Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, recently co-authored a paper which determined a profound link between exercise and the early stages of Parkinson’s. According to Corcos and his team’s research, intense exercise slows Parkinson’s progression, giving patients a new tool beyond medications. Parkinson’s medications are notorious not only for their intense side effects, but also because their benefits tend to wane rapidly as the disease progresses.
The study stipulates that patients must engage in vigorous exercise at least three times a week. During these sessions, the heart should be brought to within 80 to 85 percent of its maximum threshold. Moderate exercise below this point did not demonstrate the therapeutic effect. During trials for the study, Corcos and his team were able to delay the worsening of symptoms in their patients by as much as six months. Corcos stated that it’s unclear if the effect can be extended beyond this mark and the further study of the phenomenon is required.
Parkinson’s is a debilitating degenerative disease that attacks the sufferer’s central nervous system and motor functions. Common symptoms, which tend to appear and increase in severity over time, include difficulty walking, shaking, sleep issues, and other emotional problems. In the later stages of the disease, it is common for patients to develop dementia. Scientists are still unclear about the exact cause of the condition, though both genetic factors and the environment are believed to play a role.
The study, which was partially funded by the National Institutes of Health, trialed 127 patients. Patients did not take any medications while undergoing the exercise program, so it’s possible that a combination of the two programs could further halt the disease’s progression. While far from a cure, the study provides both a new understanding in how fitness can impact Parkinson’s and offers patients another way to buy time while a more permanent cure is researched.