It's well known that exercise invigorates both body and mind. Exercise studies in Parkinson's disease (PD) have shown improved mobility and quality of life, and possibly slower rate of disease progression. But what can exercise do for memory and thinking (cognition), which can be affected to different degrees at different points in the course of Parkinson's?
Recently, a group of researchers answered that question by reviewing exercise and cognition studies conducted in people with Parkinson's over the past 10 years. They confirmed the benefit of exercise on cognitive function in people living with PD.
For this study, researchers analyzed nine randomized controlled trials from several countries. The participants of these trials were, on average, 60 to 74 years old, diagnosed with Parkinson's six years prior and living with mild to moderate disease. Exercise programs varied in length, number and duration of sessions, and included studies with a treadmill, stationary bicycle, stretching and strengthening (with and without a Wii Fit exercise program), tai chi and tango. Volunteers' cognitive function was tested throughout each study to see if the exercise had an effect.
Of the specific exercise programs reviewed, tango, stretching and strengthening with a cognitive component (a Wii Fit exercise program), and treadmill training had benefits on cognition. The latter -- walking at a person's preferred speed or slightly slower for about an hour three times a week for 24 weeks -- boosted cognitive function more than the other two exercise programs.
More support for exercise, and treadmill exercise in particular. But this doesn't mean that treadmill walking is the best exercise for Parkinson's. Many questions remain about the optimal type, amount and intensity of exercise to keep cognitive (and other) symptoms at bay. Larger, well-designed studies can help provide answers and clarify effects.
Multiple forms of exercise for many symptoms are currently being investigated. Register for Fox Trial Finder to match with recruiting trials. As researchers work to define the ideal exercise for your Parkinson's, continue regular exercise that you enjoy.
Speak with your physician and physical therapist to design a program that meets your needs and visit our website to learn more.
Anna Boyum, PhD, is a freelance writer and editor.