By Helen Albert, Senior medwireNews Reporter
Aerobic and resistance exercise significantly improve fitness, gait speed, and muscle strength in patients with Parkinson's disease, shows research published in the Archives of Neurology.
Three months of a low-intensity aerobic treadmill exercise three times a week produced the greatest improvements in gait speed, increasing by 12% from baseline, whereas only a combination of resistance exercise and stretching over the same time period improved muscle strength, by 16% from baseline.
The team, led by Lisa Schulman from the University of Maryland in Baltimore, USA, suggests that "the combination of treadmill and resistance exercises may result in greater benefit and requires further investigation."
Gait impairment is a major feature of Parkinson's disease that cannot be adequately tackled using medication or surgery. Recent findings suggest that exercise therapy may have beneficial effects in these patients.
Schulman and colleagues recruited 67 patients with Parkinson's disease and gait impairment to take part in their study. The patients were randomly assigned to participate either in low- or high-intensity treadmill exercises, or a combination of resistance exercises and stretches over 3 months.
All of the patients improved their 6-minute walk test results from baseline with increases of 12%, 9%, and 6% seen for low-intensity aerobic, resistance/stretching, and high-intensity aerobic groups, respectively, at 3 months.
Both of the treadmill exercises, but not the resistance/stretching exercises, improved peak oxygen consumption per unit time by 7-8% from baseline and only the resistance/stretching exercises improved muscle strength.
The authors hope to investigate the effects of longer periods of exercise and combined exercise regimes on "the trajectory of disease progression over time."
Writing in an accompanying editorial, Liana Rosenthal and E Ray Dorsey (The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, USA) commented: "Exercise programs among those with neurological disorders increase the patients' sense of self-efficacy, their sense of involvement in their care and overall belief in their abilities to perform certain activities. In essence, exercise puts the patient - not a pill - at the center of care, which is exactly where patients want and ought to be."
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