Nurse helping woman walk with walker

Adding two hours of moderate exercise to a weekly routine may help patients with early-stage Parkinson’s disease extend key physical functioning over time and better maintain cognitive health as well, a new study finds. 

Patients who participated in activities such as walking or gardening over five years had less trouble balancing, walking and doing daily activities than their peers who were not active. They also performed better on cognitive tests, reported Kazuto Tsukita, M.D., of Kyoto University in Japan.

The effect was even more pronounced for those who got at least four hours per week of moderate-to-vigorous exercise, such as walking or dancing. But a patient’s physical activity level at the start of the study was not linked to Parkinson’s progression, she and her colleagues added.

“Our results are exciting, because they suggest it may never be too late for someone with Parkinson’s to start an exercise program to improve the course of their disease,” Tsukita said in a statement. “That’s because we found that to slow progression of the disease, it was more important for people with Parkinson’s to maintain an exercise program than it was to be active at the beginning of the disease.”

Parkinson’s medications can significantly relieve symptoms of the disease, but have not been shown to slow progression. They are also linked to significant side effects.

The finding that exercise can slow the course of the disease has important implications for patient outcomes, Tsukita said. 

“Best of all, exercise is low cost and has few side effects,” the authors concluded. 

Full findings were published online in the January issue of Neurology.