Walking Off Symptoms of Parkinson’s

Parkinsons disease symptoms eased in patients who did moderate walking as exercise

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Even simple forms of exercise can strengthen the body and mind. People with Parkinson’s disease may be among those who can benefit from a no-frills regimen of walking.

In a recent study, people with mild to moderate forms of Parkinson's improved various aspects of their physical and mental health through walking on a regular basis.

These improvements included better physical coordination and stamina, lung capacity, mood, energy level and overall fitness.

"Ask a neurologist about activities to improve Parkinson's symptoms."

Ergun Y. Uc, MD, of the University of Iowa and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center of Iowa City, was this study’s lead author.

For this investigation, Dr. Uc and his colleagues began in spring 2009 to enroll an eventual total of 60 Parkinson’s patients as study participants over a three-year period.

These researchers set out to monitor patients’ physical coordination, thinking and reasoning skills, and emotional and mental well-being while the participants spent six months walking three times a week. All study participants were able to walk without the aid of a cane, walker or another individual.

For the first six weeks, the walking sessions lasted 15 minutes. Those sessions eventually lasted for 45 minutes.

The walking pace was 2.9 miles per hour, which is considered moderate walking, the researchers wrote.

Study participants wore heart monitors and monitors to measure their walking speed. They also filled out diaries detailing how they felt about the exercise and how the exercise changed them.

They underwent tests to measure their abilities to stand, balance, walk, grab, hold and perform other motor functions. Tests also gauged how long they could exercise without exhausting themselves; how much their breathing capacity improved; how much their memory, thinking and other cognitive skills improved; and how much their energy level rose and their depression decreased.

Fifty of the original 60 participants completed the study.

These researchers concluded that study participants' walking regimens improved their motor function by 15 percent. It improved their ability to pay attention and respond to mental stimulation by 14 percent, and their walking speed and endurance by 7 percent. It reduced their level of exhaustion by 11 percent.

A standardized test of motor function showed that participants, on average, improved by 2.8 points. That is a statistically and scientifically important difference, the researchers wrote.

“People with mild-[to]-moderate Parkinson’s who do not have dementia and are able to walk independently, without a cane or walker, can safely follow the recommended exercise guidelines for healthy adults, which includes 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity aerobic activity, and experience benefits,” Dr. Uc said in a press statement.

This study’s results are not totally conclusive, Dr. Uc added. To confirm these preliminary results, what’s needed is a follow-up study comparing Parkinson’s patients doing a walking routine to those not doing a walking routine.

Nevertheless, “[t]he results of our study suggest that walking may provide a safe and easily accessible way of improving the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and improve quality of life,” Dr. Uc said.

According to David Winter, MD, MSc, MACP, Chief Clinical Officer, President, and Chairman of the Board of HealthTexas Provider Network (HTPN), a division of Baylor Health Care System, "This study suggests that regular walking can improve the function of those with Parkinson’s. Indeed, physical therapy classes for Parkinson’s patients have been springing up around the country and many have benefited.

"For those without access to formal therapy programs," Dr. Winter added, "progressive walking programs, as outlined in this article, offer hope for those affected by this neurological disorder."

It is estimated that 1 million people in the United States have Parkinson's disease, a disease with no known cause or cure. Symptoms of Parkinson's include trembling in the hands, jaws, face, arms and legs. Other symptoms include unusually slow movement, stiffness of the limbs and torso, and difficulty maintaining balance and physical coordination.

This study was published online July 2 in Neurology.

The US Department of Veterans Affairs, National Center for Research Resources, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institutes of Health and the Charles W. and Harriet J. Seedorff Family funded this study.

The 16 researchers reported that they had no financial investments or other involvements that would influence study design, outcomes or analysis.

Review Date: 
July 1, 2014
Last Updated:
July 3, 2014