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Intensive Exercise and Parkinson’s Disease : Unlocking Potential Benefits

Can Intense Exercise Slow Down Parkinson’s Progression?

In a significant stride towards combating Parkinson’s disease, an international team of researchers have unearthed a potential breakthrough – a rigorous exercise regimen that could potentially decelerate the progression of this debilitating condition. This development paves the way for non-pharmaceutical approaches to not only alleviate symptoms but also to treat Parkinson’s, offering a glimmer of hope for the thousands affected by this condition each year.

Parkinson’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder, affects nearly 90,000 individuals annually in the United States alone, as reported by the Parkinson’s Foundation.(1) Presently, there exists no definitive cure, prompting clinical scientists to delve into innovative avenues for not only finding a cure but also for comprehending how to effectively manage its challenging symptoms.

When you look at the huge variety of neurodegenerative conditions, Parkinson’s comes in as the second most prevalent condition, just after Alzheimer’s disease. No one really understands the onset of this disease, with symptoms often manifesting years after the underlying damage has already started, making early detection and intervention particularly challenging.

The precise origins of Parkinson’s disease remains a mystery, though experts believe that it is caused by a complicated interplay of genetic predisposition and environmental influences. Extensive research also suggests that the onset of symptoms is associated to the loss of dopamine-producing cells in the substantia nigra, which is an important region of the brain that oversees movement, reward processing, and addiction.(2)

Presently, the primary approach for managing Parkinson’s symptoms involves the use of levodopa, a medication metabolized by the brain into dopamine.(3) While effective in alleviating symptoms, levodopa is not without its drawbacks; individuals may contend with side effects, and regrettably, it falls short in halting the disease’s progressive course.

This recent study, led by accomplished neuroscientists, sought to explore the potential impact of a rigorous physical exercise program on the underlying brain changes observed in an experimental model of Parkinson’s. Their groundbreaking findings, published on July 14 in the esteemed journal Science Advances, offer a glimmer of hope for those battling this complex condition.(4) Read on to find out about how to harness the power of intense exercise and what the research found that may help slow down Parkinson’s disease progression.

What does Research Show about Intensive Exercise and Relief in Parkinson’s Symptoms?

Researchers from the Faculty of Medicine at the Catholic University, Rome Campus, in collaboration with the A. Gemelli IRCCS Polyclinic Foundation, recently made significant progress in understanding the impact of intensive exercise on Parkinson’s disease. This form of exercise, characterized by heart-pumping aerobic activities like jogging, cycling, and high-intensity interval training (HIIT), has shown promising results in reducing both motor and cognitive symptoms associated with Parkinson’s, as demonstrated in a rodent model.

In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults should ideally aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week.(5) However, this recent study has now suggested that going beyond the moderate levels to engage in more intense exercise may actually provide even more benefits for people with Parkinson’s.

The study noted that Parkinson’s patients who engaged in routine aerobic exercise, exhibited a more favorable progression of the disease. This observation provided a crucial impetus for the research.

The interesting fact is that this study aligns with several other previous research that has highlighted the positive impact of intensive exercise on Parkinson’s symptoms.(6,7) These findings offer hope for individuals affected by this condition and underscore the potential benefits of incorporating more strenuous physical activity into their routines.(8)

What is the Underlying Link between Exercise and Relief in Parkinson’s Symptoms?

According to other experts, in the past there has always been a lack of a neurobiological explanation for how physical activity caused the improvements in people with Parkinson’s disease. This is what led the study authors to find out about the underlying mechanisms between how exercise brought about relief in Parkinson’s symptoms.

While previous studies had indicated positive effects of exercise on both motor and cognitive performance, none had looked into the specific mechanism responsible for these benefits. This study used rat models to gain a deeper understanding of how exercise exerted its positive effects.(9)

To simulate early effects of Parkinson’s, researchers introduced agents to the rats and subjected them to rigorous treadmill testing. This approach aimed to explore the reversibility of motor control and movement preservation through exercise. In people with Parkinson’s, there is a protein called alpha-synuclein, which begins to accumulate, reaching high levels. It forms clumps, known as ‘aggregates’, which are believed to be detrimental to neurons. As we know, neurons play a crucial role in transmitting signals throughout the body.(10)

The study’s findings indicated that exercise led to a reduction in the accumulation of these aggregates, suggesting a potentially lasting benefit that could slow down the overall progression of Parkinson’s disease.

The study also highlighted that exercise contributed to the preservation and limited spread of Parkinson’s-causing aggregates, ultimately resulting in reduced symptoms and a slower progression of the disease. The benefits of exercise on Parkinson’s symptoms included slowed disease progression, improved movement, enhanced quality of life, as well as better sleep.

However, while the experiment involved intensive exercise over approximately four weeks, continuous exercise may not always be needed. The research team pointed out that positive effects on synaptic plasticity persisted for at least a week even after stopping motor activity. This means that short interruptions in a person’s exercise routine does not seem to reduce the benefits. Nevertheless, prolonged periods of inactivity could potentially impact the advantages gained from exercise, underscoring the importance of maintaining regular physical activity in managing Parkinson’s.

Can Exercise Alone be enough for Treating Parkinson’s?

Current treatments for Parkinson’s disease primarily focus on managing the patient’s symptoms, as there are currently no medications that have demonstrated effectiveness in altering the course of the disease.

While medications aim to relieve symptoms, non-pharmaceutical approaches are being looked at to complement these efforts in mitigating the impact of the disease.

Although exercise constitutes a crucial component in Parkinson’s treatment, it is just one part of a comprehensive approach aimed at symptom control and slowing down the progression of the disease.

Experts are now advocating for the integration of exercise alongside medications from the early stages through to more advanced phases of the disease. Those with Parkinson’s should ideally work closely with their doctors to determine the lowest effective dose of medication that enables them to maintain an active lifestyle.

While exercise may not address all symptoms, rigorous engagement in physical activity has the potential to decelerate the progression of the disease. This approach is strongly encouraged by clinicians who specialize in Parkinson’s care.

The study further emphasized that everyone involved in caring for Parkinson’s patients, like doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, and caregivers, should encourage and help patients stay active. They should especially focus on activities like aerobic exercises, as this approach can greatly benefit the overall well-being and care of people with Parkinson’s.


Recent research has illuminated the profound potential of intensive exercise as a valuable tool in the battle against Parkinson’s disease. By comprehending the neurobiological mechanisms behind its beneficial effects, we can take a significant step towards developing more effective treatments. Intensive exercise not only offers symptomatic relief, but also holds promise in slowing down the progression of the disease. This groundbreaking insight underscores the vital role that physical activity can play in enhancing the lives of individuals living with Parkinson’s, providing renewed hope for a brighter future in their journey towards well-being and improved quality of life.

Incorporating intensive exercise as a fundamental aspect of Parkinson’s care can empower individuals in their journey towards improved mobility and well-being. This holistic approach, supported by healthcare professionals and caregivers, marks a promising stride towards a brighter future for those living with Parkinson’s disease.


  1. www.parkinson.org. (n.d.). Statistics | Parkinson’s Foundation. [online] Available at: https://www.parkinson.org/understanding-parkinsons/statistics.
  2. Bloem, B.R., Okun, M.S. and Klein, C., 2021. Parkinson’s disease. The Lancet, 397(10291), pp.2284-2303.
  3. www.parkinson.org. (n.d.). Levodopa | Parkinson’s Foundation. [online] Available at: https://www.parkinson.org/living-with-parkinsons/treatment/prescription-medications/levodopa.
  4. Marino, G., Campanelli, F., Natale, G., De Carluccio, M., Servillo, F., Ferrari, E., Gardoni, F., Caristo, M.E., Picconi, B., Cardinale, A. and Loffredo, V., 2023. Intensive exercise ameliorates motor and cognitive symptoms in experimental Parkinson’s disease restoring striatal synaptic plasticity. Science Advances, 9(28), p.eadh1403.
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2022). How Much Physical Activity do Adults Need? [online] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm.
  6. Goodwin, V.A., Richards, S.H., Taylor, R.S., Taylor, A.H. and Campbell, J.L., 2008. The effectiveness of exercise interventions for people with Parkinson’s disease: A systematic review and meta‐analysis. Movement disorders, 23(5), pp.631-640.
  7. Crizzle, A.M. and Newhouse, I.J., 2006. Is physical exercise beneficial for persons with Parkinson’s disease?. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 16(5), pp.422-425.
  8. www.parkinson.org. (n.d.). Aerobic Exercise Positively Alters Parkinson’s Brain | Parkinson’s Foundation. [online] Available at: https://www.parkinson.org/blog/science-news/aerobic-exercise.
  9. Xu, X., Fu, Z. and Le, W., 2019. Exercise and Parkinson’s disease. International review of neurobiology, 147, pp.45-74.
  10. Lücking, C.B. and Brice*, A., 2000. Alpha-synuclein and Parkinson’s disease. Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences CMLS, 57, pp.1894-1908.

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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:October 10, 2023

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