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Exercising with Parkinson's Disease: Should It Be High-Intensity?

Exercising with Parkinson's Disease: Should It Be High-Intensity?

While any level of physical activity can be beneficial for Parkinson’s disease, recent studies have suggested that short bursts of vigorous exercise may work even better than longer sessions of moderate activity.

Besides being more efficient than traditional moderate exercise, research suggests that high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, is also more effective at improving a range of disease symptoms from heart disease, stroke, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease, according to The New York Times.

A HIIT session generally involves 30 to 60 seconds of hard exercise near the top of a person's limit, followed by an easy recovery exercise for the same amount of time. Then the process is repeated for about 20 minutes.

One convenient feature of HIIT is that it can be adapted to exercises many already do, such as walking, jogging and cycling. For example, a workout could include 30 seconds of running at top speed, then 30 seconds of walking.

The Times described a small study in Poland that measured HIIT’s benefit on people with Parkinson’s in a cycling trial:

[P]olish researchers demonstrated that HIIT could alleviate the rigidity and excessive muscle tone that makes it difficult for Parkinson’s disease patients to move their arms and legs. The researchers, from the University School of Physical Education in Krakow, Poland, showed in 11 patients with mild to moderate Parkinson’s symptoms that eight weeks of HIIT, three times a week, on a stationary bike had a global benefit, improving both lower and upper body function.

If you’ve started an exercise program and found that it isn’t challenging enough, don’t hesitate to talk with your doctor or physical therapist about trying HIIT. When Bruce Ballard, a member of our Facebook community, first started physical therapy, the regimen his doctor first suggested didn't take into account his current fitness level and wasn't very rigorous. Since then, he’s found noticeable results from HIIT.

"I alternate between running for a few minutes at a moderate pace, and then setting the treadmill speed at a super-fast pace for two minutes," says Bruce. "Then repeat. My neurologist and I are shocked and delighted at the results."

NOTE: The medical information contained in this article is for general information purposes only. The Michael J. Fox Foundation has a policy of refraining from advocating, endorsing or promoting any drug therapy, course of treatment, or specific company or institution. It is crucial that care and treatment decisions related to Parkinson’s disease and any other medical condition be made in consultation with a physician or other qualified medical professional.

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