Exercise can help people with Parkinson’s disease improve their quality of life, their ability to move around, and their balance, even if it does not reduce their risk of falling, according to a new study.
For the study, 231 people with Parkinson’s disease either received their usual care or took part in an exercise program.
The minimally-supervised exercise program included 40 to 60 minutes of balance and leg strengthening exercises three times a week for six months.
While prescribed and monitored by a physical therapist, most of the exercises were performed by the patients in their homes. On average, 13 percent of the exercise sessions were supervised by a physical therapist, the researchers reported.
Falling is a common problem for people with Parkinson’s, with 60 percent falling each year and two-thirds of those falling repeatedly, according to study author Colleen G. Canning, Ph.D., of the University of Sydney in Australia.
“The resulting injuries, pain, limitations of activity, and fear of falling again can really affect people’s health and well-being,” she said.
Compared to those in the control group, the number of falls by participants who exercised was reduced in those with less severe Parkinson’s disease — but not in those with more severe disease, she noted. For those with less severe disease, a 70 percent reduction in falls was reported by those who exercised, she added.
“These results suggest that minimally supervised exercise programs aimed at reducing falls in people with Parkinson’s should be started early in the disease process,” Canning said.
Overall, those who took part in the exercise program performed better on tests of ability to move around and balance, had a lower fear of falls and reported better overall mood and quality of life, she concluded.
The study, supported by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council and the Harry Secomb Foundation, was published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.