Save for Food and Drug Administration-approved medications and deep brain stimulations (DBS) therapy, there are very few viable treatment options for reducing the progression of Parkinson’s disease. A study published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, suggests that light aerobic exercises like walking can improve the motor function, mood, fatigue, fitness, and cognitive function among people diagnosed with mild to moderate Parkinson’s disease.

"The results of our study suggest that walking may provide a safe and easily accessible way of improving the symptoms of Parkinson's disease and improve quality of life," Dr. Ergun Y. Uc, lead author from the University of Iowa in Iowa City and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center of Iowa City, said in a statement.

Uc and his colleagues recruited 60 Parkinson’s patients who completed tests measuring their memory and thinking ability, motor function, aerobic fitness, mood, and fatigue. For a period of six months, patients were asked to participate in 45-minute walking sessions while wearing heart rate monitors three times a week. Study participants met the definition of moderate intensity aerobic exercise by using 47 percent of their heart rate reserve, with an average walking speed of around 2.9 miles per hour.

After the six months, results of the motor function test improved by an average of 2.8 points, which researchers considered a clinically important difference. Overall, moderate intensity aerobic exercise improved motor function and mood by 15 percent, attention/response control scores by 14 percent, aerobic fitness and gait speed by seven percent, and reduced fatigue by 11 percent. The research team plans on confirming their results in a randomized study with a control group.

"People with mild-moderate Parkinson's who do not have dementia and are able to walk independently without a cane or walker can safely follow the recommended exercise guidelines for healthy adults, which includes 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity aerobic activity, and experience benefits," said Uc who is also a member of the American Academy of Neurology.

According to the National Parkinson’s Foundation, exercise is essential to maintaining balance, mobility, and daily living activities among people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Research has found that walking, biking, tai chi, and yoga can all benefit symptoms of Parkinson’s, including gait, balance, tremors, flexibility, grip strength, and motor function. It also has the potential to slow the progression of the disease by decreasing the risk of falls and other complications.

Source: Doerschug K, Magnotta V, Uc E, et al. Phase I/II randomized trial of aerobic exercise in Parkinson disease in a community setting. Neurology. 2014.