Exercise improves cognition in Parkinson’s disease, study finds

Mental Health
Parkinson's disease

The Journal of Parkinson’s Disease recently discussed the positive effects of exercise on non-motor Parkinson’s disease symptoms.

When one imagines the life of an individual diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, they often think of symptoms that debilitate movements such as tremors or impaired balance. However, Parkinson’s disease symptoms affect more than just the musculoskeletal system.

The disease is characterized by the progressive death of neurons in the brain that typically produce the neurotransmitter dopamine. Decreased dopamine levels can lead to abnormal brain activity and subsequently, Parkinson’s disease symptoms.

Non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease affects quality of life

The disease is now known to be a multi-system disorder as the non-motor symptoms also show to have a significant impact on an individual’s quality of life. Unfortunately, Parkinson’s disease has no cure. There are only medications and drastic surgeries that can be used to regulate the symptoms, but none that can entirely cure the disease altogether.

In early 2019, researchers performed a comprehensive review of randomized controlled trials from various institutions. They published the review in the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease. The majority, if not all, of the current research surrounding Parkinson’s disease symptoms show the benefits of exercise on the motor symptoms. However, the researchers of this study focused on the effects of various types of exercise on the cognitive function in Parkinson’s disease patients. Exercise types included coordination exercise, resistance exercise, and aerobic exercise.

Overall, 11 studies involving over 500 Parkinson’s disease patients were included. The severity of symptoms was classified from stage one to stage four based on the Hoehn & Yahr scale, an established rating system for describing Parkinson’s disease symptoms.

Exercise had positive effects on cognition

The research showed that exercise yielded positive effects on the cognition of individuals, specifically on memory, executive function, and global cognitive function. The severity of Parkinson’s disease symptoms also improved when the patients were subjected to exercise interventions. The authors concluded that all modes of exercise were associated with improved cognitive function, but the specifics of whether one type of exercise was better than another was unknown.

For example, the authors agreed that aerobic exercise led to the best-improved memory, but the various forms of aerobic exercise (stationary biking or treadmill training) may have different efficacy levels. Nonetheless, as the first of its kind, the study showed that Parkinson’s disease symptoms on cognition could be helped without pharmacological or surgical interventions.

As stated in the press release from Stuckenschneider, “As part of holistic therapy, the potential of exercise to maintain or improve non-motor symptoms such as cognitive function in individuals with Parkinson’s disease needs to be acknowledged, and the most effective treatment options need to be defined.” This research provides insight for potentially new treatment options to fight against the disease.

Written by Stephanie C. Tsang

References:

  1. Downward, E. (n.d.). Diagnosis – Rating Scales. Retrieved from https://parkinsonsdisease.net/diagnosis/rating-scales-staging/
  2. Murray, D. (n.d.). Exercise can improve non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. Retrieved from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-03/ip-eci030419.php
  3. Parkinson’s disease. (2018, June 30). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/parkinsons-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20376055
  4. Stuckenschneider, T., Askew, C. D., Menêses, A. L., Baake, R., Weber, J., & Schneider, S. (2019). The Effect of Different Exercise Modes on Domain-Specific Cognitive Function in Patients Suffering from Parkinson’s Disease: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials. Journal of Parkinsons Disease,9(1), 73-95. doi:10.3233/jpd-181484

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