High intensity exercise better for people with Parkinson’s

People with Parkinson’s saw benefits of exercise while spending less time exercising at a higher intensity

High intensity interval training using cycling as an exercise saw greater results for people living with Parkinson’s disease.

University of Guelph human health and nutritional science professors Lori Ann Vallis, Phillip Millar and Jamie Burr received a grant from Parkinson’s Canada to fund their research study in 2018.

The study went from 2018 to 2020 and there were three cohorts of participants with Parkinson’s. A total of 30 participants joined the study.

The cohorts each spend 12 weeks in the study. The first and last week were spent in the U of G labs to test posture, stability, balance and other markers of ability. 

The 10 weeks in between the participants were exercising three days a week at the YMCA of Three Rivers.

One group would cycle for 60 minutes at a lower intensity, while the other group cycled at a higher intensity for one minute, rest for one minute and this would continue for 20 minutes.

Participants in the high intensity group saw the same or greater benefits from exercising for a shorter period of time but with a higher intensity.  

“We know just from literature, and just anecdotally that they do get fatigued a little bit more quickly than like their age, not healthy, or so-called healthy counterparts,” said Vallis.

Results from the study were all participants had better cardiovascular fitness. Performing everyday activities like grocery shopping, taking their dog for a walk, and even different obstacles like transitioning from tile to carpet were improved.

“Looking again at the mental health piece, which, of course, is so important when you’re dealing with a neurological disease that is neurodegenerative, and people, unfortunately, do tend to get worse over time,” said Vallis.

Anecdotally, Vallis said participants enjoyed the social aspect of the program and were happy to connect with other people living with Parkinson’s.

Vallis said she hopes for the future this program can run nationally across YMCAs in Canada.

It has been a collaborative effort between the U of G researchers, Parkinson’s participants and the YMCA of Three Rivers.

“And we’re hoping that physicians and others kind of encourage their patients, to also consider it. If the YMCA is available and able to run these types of exercise programs, we can maybe take a little bit of that burden off of health care system and put it with the experts but no exercise.”

Even if people are busy and can only fit in a workout for a short period of time, it still has benefits, said Vallis.

Before the U of G researchers got involved with the YMCA, they already had programs specifically for people with Parkinson’s.

“We were supporting people living with Parkinson’s disease at the time in our Neuro Fit programming and interested in learning about other types of evidence based exercise programs. At the time I believe staff at Guelph Y were investigating the Pedaling for Parkinson’s program that was being offered in the US,” said Crystal Hughes, director of wellness at the YMCA of Three Rivers.

The YMCA has run a running exercise program for people with Parkinson’s and other neurological conditions since 2013. They have also run a boxing exercise program for people with Parkinson’s at the Kitchener location since 2017.

“Our purpose as a charity is to make our communities healthier, to put our people and community first by listening, responding and adapting to their needs. If there is a need to run this type of program again, and we have the resources to deliver, we would consider running the program in the future,” said Hughes.

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