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High Intensity Interval Training May Benefit Patients with Parkinson’s, Pilot Study Shows

HIIT and Parkinson's

High intensity interval training for 12 weeks can significantly improve neuronal activity and delay progression of Parkinson’s disease, correlating with an improvement in patients’ quality of life, according to a recent study.

The scientific poster, “High intensity interval training elevates circulating BDNF and miRNAs level in patients with idiopathic Parkinson’s disease,” was presented recently at the International Congress of Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders in Nice, France.

Different types of exercise — such as aerobic, resistance, forced exercise, dance and balance training — have been shown to improve motor symptoms in Parkinson’s disease.

However, to date, there is limited information about how exercise can induce beneficial effects, in particular regarding cognitive and motor functioning.

A team of Polish researchers conducted a small study to evaluate the impact of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) in people with Parkinson’s disease.

The study enrolled 32 idiopathic (of unknown cause) Parkinson’s patients, 16 of whom underwent 12 weeks of HIIT workout, and 16 age-matched participants used as controls. Patients were examined and had blood samples collected before and after the completion of HIIT workout (after 12 weeks) and one week after training completion.

Researchers evaluated the levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), an important signaling molecule known to contribute for the normal activity of dopaminergic neurons — those most affected by Parkinson’s disease — and prevent their degeneration.

Recent studies have suggested that moderate intensity training can increase  the blood levels of BDNF in Parkinson’s patients while simultaneously decreasing physical impairment. Still, studies in sedentary subjects and athletes show better effectiveness of HIIT training as compared to aerobic training of moderate intensity.

The results showed that 12 weeks of HIIT resulted in higher BDNF levels and stimulated the production of small RNA molecules known to regulate BDNF.

Patients who underwent the HIIT workout plan also showed decreased Hoehn and Yahr scale scores, which indicate slower disease progression, neuroplasticity and, consequently, quality of life.

“This is a very interesting study that shows what is happening at a physiological level when patients with Parkinson’s disease exercise,” Deborah Hall, MD, PhD, director of the movement disorders program at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois, said in a press release.

“Although neurologists are frequently asking their patients with [Parkinson’s] to exercise, not all patients are able or willing to do so, especially at levels used in many of the aerobic studies. By understanding what happens on a cellular or chemical level in these Parkinson’s disease exercisers who improve clinically, we may be able to provide an intervention or therapeutic that can lead to the same benefits as exercise without the work of exercising,” Hall said.

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