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Parkinson's Disease Health Center

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Treadmill Walking Improves Parkinson's Symptoms

Low-Intensity Treadmill Training Helps Parkinson's Patients' Gait, Mobility
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

April 12, 2011 -- People with Parkinson’s disease who walk on a treadmill at a comfortable, low-intensity speed may be able to improve their gait and mobility, new research indicates.

Such exercise may be better than walking at faster speeds for a shorter period of time or resistance training that includes leg-press repetitions, curls, and extensions, according to researchers from the University of Maryland.

In the first randomized trial of its kind, researchers enrolled 67 Parkinson’s disease patients who had trouble walking and assigned them to three types of exercise.

Different Groups in Study

One group did high-intensity treadmill walking, walking at faster speeds but for a shorter duration of 30 minutes. Another group walked on a treadmill at slower speeds, but for a longer period of 50 minutes. The third group stretched and performed other resistance exercises, including repetitions of leg presses, extensions, and curls.

All participants exercised three times a week for three months, supervised by exercise physiologists at the Baltimore VA Medical Center.

The study results indicate that low-intensity treadmill training resulted in the most consistent improvements in gait and mobility. People who trained with low-intensity walking performed better than people in the other two groups on distance and speed tests.

Only stretching and resistance training improved scores on a standard Parkinson’s disease performance measure, called the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale.

Low-Intensity Exercise

“Contrary to evidence suggesting that high-intensity exercise is the most effective, our results suggest that a combination of low-intensity training and stretching-resistance training may achieve the greatest improvements for people with Parkinson’s disease,” Lisa M. Shulman, MD, of the University of Maryland, says in a news release. “These results have important implications for how we manage Parkinson’s disease, since low-intensity exercise can be done by most people with Parkinson’s, and our patients frequently ask what type of exercise they should be doing.”

The study is being presented in Honolulu at the 63rd annual meeting of the American Society of Neurology.

This study was presented at a medical conference. The findings should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

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