A new study published in the journal Neurology, from the American Academy of Neurology, shows that exercise can significantly improve symptoms in Parkinson’s patients, including strengthening their balance, ability to move around, and even their overall quality of life.

For the study, researchers examined 231 people who had Parkinson’s disease; one group received usual treatment, while another group participated in an exercise program three times a week over the course of six months. The program involved 40 to 60 minutes of balance and leg-strengthening exercises, and about 13 percent of the sessions were supervised by a physical therapist. The study found that the patients in the exercise program experienced fewer falls (up to 70 percent less) than those who didn’t exercise — but only for people with a less severe form of Parkinson’s. Patients with severe Parkinson’s, on the other hand, weren’t so impacted by exercise.

“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,” Colleen Canning of the University of Sydney in Australia, and lead author of the study, said in a press release.

Along with impaired motor skills and slower decision-making, Parkinson’s disease, which involves the degeneration of nerve cells in the part of the brain that controls movement, can often create a risk for falling. Often, patients suffering from the disease first experience weakness in their limbs as well as trembling, which gets worse as time goes on. Depression and cognitive and emotional issues often go hand in hand with this disorder.

But falling is one of the riskier effects, with about 60 percent of Parkinson’s patients falling at least once a year, and up to two-thirds of them falling consistently. “The resulting injuries, pain, limitations of activity, and fear of falling again can really affect people’s health and well-being,” Canning said in the press release.

If exercise is the single best preventive treatment for any disease out there, then it surely can help reduce falls and improve not only the physical state, but also mental and emotional state, of people with Parkinson’s disease. Take Dr. Donald Cantway for example; he's a retired emergency room physician in his 70s living with Parkinson’s. With the help of a new exercise regimen, as well as a neurostimulator in his brain that helps lessen the effects of tremors and slowed movements, Cantway has seen a drastic improvement in his condition.

It’s been known for quite some time that moderate, consistent exercise reduces the risk of pretty much every chronic disease out there, including cancer, obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, and Alzheimer’s. Parkinson’s is no exception to the rule. Cantway, who has become a cross-country skier, told Steamboat Today in an interview that “Parkinson’s takes away your fine motor movements, and exercises that require big motions help.” Cross country skiing is “ideal,” he notes, though “the only problem is that if you fall down, it can be hard to get up… Exercises designed to improve balance and mobility — those are the things you lose.”