For the estimated half a million people in the US living with Parkinson’s disease, simple day-to-day activities can prove a challenge. But a new study claims exercise can improve balance, mobility and overall quality of life for individuals with the condition. In patients with less severe Parkinson’s, exercise may even reduce the risk of falls.

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People with Parkinson’s who engaged in three 40-60 minute exercise sessions a week for 6 months were found to have better mobility, balance and quality of life, according to researchers.

The researchers, including Colleen G. Canning, PhD, of the University of Sydney in Australia, publish their findings in the journal Neurology.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder that is newly diagnosed in around 50,000 Americans each year. Onset is most common among individuals over the age of 60, and the disease affects around 50% more men than women.

Triggered by damaged neurons in an area of the brain that controls movement, Parkinson’s disease can cause involuntary movements or tremors, impaired balance and coordination, and problems standing and walking.

As such, falling is common among people with Parkinson’s; around 60% of individuals with the disease experience a fall each year, and approximately two thirds of these fall frequently.

“The resulting injuries, pain, limitations of activity and fear of falling again can really affect people’s health and well-being,” notes Canning.

In their study, the researchers set out to see whether exercise could reduce the risk of falls and improve balance, movement and overall life quality in 231 people with Parkinson’s.

Canning and colleagues randomized the participants to either take part in a 40-60 minute exercise program three times a week for 6 months or to continue with their usual care.

The exercise program consisted of balance and leg-strengthening exercises that were recommended and assessed by a physical therapist. The majority of exercises were performed at home under minimal supervision; around 13% of sessions were monitored by a physical therapist.

The team found that participants with less severe Parkinson’s disease who took part in the exercise program saw a 70% reduction in falls, compared with those who continued with their usual care.

What is more, participants who engaged in the exercise program reported improved mobility and balance, reduced fear of falls and better overall quality of life.

Commenting on their findings, Canning says:

These results suggest that minimally supervised exercise programs aimed at reducing falls in people with Parkinson’s should be started early in the disease process.”

This is not the first study to note the benefits of exercise among people with Parkinson’s. In 2012, Medical News Today reported on a study published in the Archives of Neurology claiming resistance training, stretching and treadmill use may improve overall fitness and mobility in individuals with Parkinson’s.

Most recently, a study by researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden suggested that 6 hours of medium physical activity a day may even reduce the risk of developing Parkinson’s by 43%.

“These findings are important for both the general population and the health care of patients with Parkinson’s disease,” the researchers of that study noted.