Studies have shown that exercise can help slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease, but the actual exercise habits of patients and the real results of it had not been explored until a recent Northwestern Medicine study. Analyzing data from nearly 5,000 patients with Parkinson’s disease, the investigators found that regular exercise is associated with better quality of life and slower rates of decline.
“This study provides a number of important observations that are highly relevant to the physicians taking care of Parkinson’s disease patients and to people living with it,” said Tanya Simuni, MD, director of the Parkinson’s Disease Movement Disorders Center.
Approximately one million people in the United States have the neurological disease, which triggers the gradual loss of the cells responsible for the production of dopamine, a chemical essential for movement coordination. Manifestations of the disease include slowness of movements, tremors, stiffness and change of gait, as well as non-motor features such as mood dysfunction and sleep impairment, among others.
“There are a lot of effective options to treat the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, but there are no curative options or drugs that could slow disease progression,” said Dr. Simuni.
Despite growing research indicating that exercise can reduce the disease’s progression, there has been uncertainty about whether patients have the capability for it with their physical limitations. Dr. Simuni and colleagues examined data from the large National Parkinson Foundation (NPF) Quality Improvement Initiative (QII) Registry of patients with the disease to find out if that conception is true.
They found that 44 percent of Parkinson’s participants reported exercising regularly, more than 150 minutes a week.
“Regular exercisers at baseline were associated with better metrics of quality of life, mobility and physical function and less progression of disease disability, caregiver burden and cognitive decline one year later – even after taking into account disease duration, age and other demographic factors,” said Dr. Simuni. “This shows that people with physical disabilities can effectively exercise.”
The study also demonstrated that the amount of physical activity a person has matters: Regular exercisers had less-severe disease symptoms and better cognitive function than low and non-exercisers. The findings were published in Parkinsonism & Related Disorders.
The NPF QII Registry is an observational prospective longitudinal study, conducted at NPF centers of excellence in North America. Dr. Simuni serves on the organization steering committee.
“With over 7,500 patients in 4 countries, the project has given us unprecedented power to examine factors that influence symptoms and quality of life for people with Parkinson’s at every stage of the disease,” said Peter Schmidt, PhD, chief information officer and vice president of research programs at the NPF. “Dr. Simuni has been a leader in teasing out new insight from the collected data.”
Dr. Simuni is the Arthur C. Nielsen, Jr. Research Professor in Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders in the Ken and Ruth Davee Department of Neurology.
Additional Feinberg authors for this study include Amy Eisenstein, PhD, research assistant professor in Medical Social Sciences, and Mary Kwasny, ScD, associate professor in Preventive Medicine. The first author is former fellow Odinachi Oguh, MD, ’12 GME.