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A Physical Therapist working with a man on a Treadmill

According to a study of patients with Parkinson disease, high-intensity aerobic exercise performed on a treadmill in the early stages, and within five years of diagnosis, can slow the progression of symptoms of the disease. While researchers say more research is needed, the treatment proved to be safe and effective after 6 months. 

These findings were published in JAMA Neurology (Effect of High-Intensity Treadmill Exercise on Motor Symptoms in Patients With De Novo Parkinson Disease: A Phase 2 Randomized Clinical Trial) in December 2017. Authors divided 128 patients with PD into 3 groups: a high-intensity group who did 30 minutes of treadmill work with an 80%-85% maximum target heart rate 4 times a week, a moderate-intensity group who did 30 minutes on the treadmill with a 60%-65% maximum heart rate 4 times a week, and a usual-care group who maintained their current rates of physical activity.

After 6 months, participants completed the Unified Parkinson Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS) and scores were compared with baseline scores. Those in the high-intensity only group experienced a 0.3 increase in disease progression, compared with a 3.2 increase among those in the usual-care group, and a 2.0 increase among those in the moderate-intensity group.

Parkinson disease is a progressive neurologic disorder. The severity and symptoms can widely vary, but people with PD experience a slow decline in mobility and thinking as the disease progresses through stages. It is the second most common degenerative brain disorder affecting adults (Alzheimer's disease is the most common). Physical therapists conduct comprehensive evaluations and develop an individualized and active treatment plan to help patients with PD stay as active and independent as possible.

Physical therapists are movement experts. They improve quality of life through hands-on care, patient education, and prescribed movement. You can contact a physical therapist directly for an evaluation. To find a physical therapist in your area, visit Find a PT.

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