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Study hopes to show exercise can slow the progression of Parkinson's disease

University of Utah Health and Intermountain Healthcare, along with other health organizations in the United States and Canada, are taking part in a study of the benefits of moderate to intense exercise in slowing the progression of Parkinson's disease.

University of Utah Health and Intermountain Healthcare, along with other health organizations in the United States and Canada, are taking part in a study of the benefits of moderate to intense exercise in slowing the progression of Parkinson's disease. (Brian A Jackson, Shutterstock)



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — Some symptoms of Parkinson's disease can be alleviated with medications, but there has not been a method to stop the disease from progressing.

Exercise, however, has shown positive results.

A study hoping to prove exercise is helpful and to learn more about how to use it to treat Parkinson's disease and mitigate progression, is in its beginning stages.

University of Utah Health and Intermountain Healthcare are participating in the study, along with other health organizations in the United States and Canada.

"Endurance exercise programs are an important part of our patients' treatment for Parkinson's disease. ... If we can prove certain forms of exercise slow down disease progression, it would be a major breakthrough in treating our patients," said Dr. Kathleen McKee, neurologist and study lead at Intermountain Healthcare.

The study, which is funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, will specifically consider whether moderate or intense exercise is most beneficial for individuals with Parkinson's disease and whether exercise does slow the progression of the disease.

Lee Dibble, professor of physical therapy and athletic training at U. Health and principal investigator of the Utah-based sites, said this study is the largest study so far researching a non-pharmacologic intervention for Parkinson's disease. He said the underlying premise of the study is that exercise will slow the progression of neuronal loss and allow people with Parkinson's disease to maintain functionality.

"We are excited to work to improve patients' quality of life while investigating if aerobic exercise slows the rate of Parkinson's disease progression, something no drug has been shown to do," Dibble said.

Dibble said they expect between 15-20 participants in Utah, contributing to about 350 participants across the various sites. He said they will accept as many people as they can into the study and will continue recruiting, but that there is a high burden for both the researchers and the participants in the study.

Dibble has participated in other studies on exercise related to Parkinson's disease over the last 20 years, including one study for exercises to help improve balance control and reduce fall risk for Parkinson's disease patients, and one considering how exercise can help patients regulate blood pressure and heart rates. He said there are also other ongoing projects in Utah funded by National Institutes of Health that are geared toward individuals who are in more advanced stages of Parkinson's.

"We're deeply embedded in and committed to exercise interventions in the context of Parkinson's and other neurologic diseases," Dibble said.

This study was funded as a five-year study, although it has been delayed due to COVID-19. Dibble said they expect to have results in about 2 1/2 years at this point.

Researchers are looking for individuals between 40 and 80 years old who are in the early stages of Parkinson's disease to participate in the study. Participants will be assigned to do either high or moderate intensity treadmill workouts for 18 months. Anyone who wants to learn more about participation or be screened for enrollment can call 801-587-3181 or reach out by email.

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