The Parkinson's community has long been told that exercise is important for maintaining a sense of well being and better quality of life. But recently there have been some hints that high intensity aerobic exercise might actually help reduce the symptoms of Parkinson's. This week, researchers at the Radboud University Medical Centre in Nijmegen (the Netherlands) published the results of a clinical trial evaluating an 'at home' high intensity exercise regime in people with Parkinson's, and they found that it had a positive effect.

The team - led by Prof Bas Bloem (The Cure Parkinson's Trust Tom Isaacs award winner for 2018) - recruited 130 people with Parkinson's for the "Park-in-Shape" study, and randomly assigned them to either the 'aerobic intervention group' (who trained on a stationary exercise bike at home) or the 'active control group' (stretching exercises). The participants were instructed to do their exercise for 30–45 min, three times per week for six months. Both of the groups in the study received a motivational app and remote supervision throughout the study, and they were clinically assessed before and after the six month period.

The results suggest that after the six months of these two treatments, there was a statistically significant difference between the groups in their clinical motor scores (as measured by the MDS-UPDRS) of 4·2 points in favour of aerobic exercise. That is to say, while the 'active control group' had an increase in their clinical motor score of 5.6 (indicating progression in the condition), the 'aerobic intervention group' increased their score by only 1·3 points, suggesting a slowing of disease progression.

The researchers note that a replication of the study is required to determine the long-term effectiveness of this intervention and to investigate the possible disease-modifying mechanisms that could be involved. But the study provides an example of the positive potential benefits from an exercise routine that can be performed at home.

Professor Bas Bloem said:

"This study is very important. We can now start researching whether much more long-term cycling can also slow the disease progression. Also, this new 'exergaming' approach that we have developed is very suitable to achieve long-term improvements in exercise behaviour for patients with a range of other disorders that could also benefit from regular exercise."

 Find the full study here.