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High-intensity strength training benefits those with Parkinson's disease

January 31, 2014
by Lois A. Bowers, Senior Editor
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Quality of life, mood and motor function all significantly improved in older people with Parkinson’s disease after they underwent a high-intensity strength training program, according to the findings of a study published online in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) studied 15 people with moderate Parkinson’s disease. They underwent 16 weeks of high-intensity resistance training combined with interval training designed to simultaneously challenge strength, power, endurance, balance and mobility function. Before and after the 16 weeks, the study subjects were compared with people of the same age who did not have Parkinson’s disease and did not undergo the exercise regimen. Biopsies of muscle tissue were collected before and after the 16 weeks.

“We saw improvements in strength, muscle size and power, which we expected after rigorous weight training; but we also saw improvement in balance and muscle control,” says Marcas Bamman, PhD, professor in the Department of Cell, Developmental and Integrative Biology and lead author of the study. “We also saw improvement in cognition, mood and sense of well-being.”

Physicians who treat Parkinson’s disease, such as David Standaert, MD, PhD, chairman of the UAB Department of Neurology, say they have long believed that exercise is beneficial to those they treat.

“What we do not know is what kind of exercise and how much exercise will prove best for individual patients with Parkinson’s,” he says. “This study is concrete evidence that patients can benefit from an exercise program and can do so rapidly in only 16 weeks.”

Standaert says he hopes this study will open the door to a more complete understanding of the role of exercise in people with Parkinson’s disease.

“My patients who participated in the study told me that they enjoyed the exercise regimen and that they saw distinct improvement in their health and physical condition,” he says. “Future studies should be able to help answer questions such as optimal frequency, intensity and type of exercise.”

Other recent research elsewhere showed that high-intensity rehab lowers the risk of falls in those with dementia.

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