Can high-intensity interval training help Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s Disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disease, which means that there is a gradual decline in the function of nerve cells over time. Whilst there are currently no treatments to cure PD, exercise has been shown to be beneficial for PD. Among the many different types of exercise, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) has been suggested to be even more beneficial for PD compared to moderate intensity training. But firstly, we must ask, what is HIIT?

What is high-intensity interval training?

HIIT is a type of training where periods of very high intensity exercise, known as the ‘ON’ phase, are alternated with periods of reduced intensity or recovery, also known as the ‘OFF’ phase. The time periods for the ‘ON’ and ‘OFF’ phases will vary depending on an individual’s current fitness levels, but generally range between 20 to 60 seconds, and a total session will typically last at least 30 minutes including a warm-up and cool-down. HIIT can be applied to many different types of exercise, such as cycling or boxing.

So, what are the benefits of HIIT on Parkinson's Disease? 

Recent studies have shown preliminary evidence that HIIT may improve brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels to a greater extent than moderate intensity exercise. BDNF has been hypothesised to be one of the key mechanisms by which exercise can improve outcomes in PD, since BDNF acts on the nerve cells that degenerate in PD and can help in the protection and survival of these nerve cells. This suggests that higher intensity exercise may slow the progression of PD. HIIT training has also been suggested to improve neuroplasticity, which is the ability of the nervous system to create new neural pathways, and improvements in motor examination scores such as rigidity and walking ability have also been shown. Additionally, HIIT training has also been shown to acutely improve cognition in PD. In combination with a slowed disease progression, these changes can help to improve quality of life. 

Should I be doing HIIT?

Recent studies have shown preliminary evidence that HIIT may improve brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels to a greater extent than moderate intensity exercise. BDNF has been hypothesised to be one of the key mechanisms by which exercise can improve outcomes in PD, since BDNF acts on the nerve cells that degenerate in PD and can help in the protection and survival of these nerve cells. This suggests that higher intensity exercise may slow the progression of PD. HIIT training has also been suggested to improve neuroplasticity, which is the ability of the nervous system to create new neural pathways, and improvements in motor examination scores such as rigidity and walking ability have also been shown. Additionally, HIIT training has also been shown to acutely improve cognition in PD.  In combination with a slowed disease progression, these changes can help to improve quality of life. 

Written by Mitch Abagi

References

Fiorelli, C. M., Ciolac, E. G., Simieli, L., Silva, F. A., Fernandes, B., Christofoletti, G., & Barbieri, F. A. (2019). Differential acute effect of high-intensity interval or continuous moderate exercise on cognition in individuals with Parkinson’s disease. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 16(2), 157-164.

Hirsch, M. A., van Wegen, E. E., Newman, M. A., & Heyn, P. C. (2018). Exercise-induced increase in brain-derived neurotrophic factor in human Parkinson's disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Translational neurodegeneration, 7(1), 1-12.

Malczynska, P., Kaminski, B., Siemiatycka, M., Pawlowska, A., Przybylska, I., Langfort, J., ... & Chalimoniuk, M. (2019). High intensity interval training elevates circulating BDNF and miRNAs level in patients with idiopathic Parkinson's disease. In MOVEMENT DISORDERS (Vol. 34). 

O’Callaghan, A., Harvey, M., Houghton, D., Gray, W. K., Weston, K. L., Oates, L. L., ... & Walker, R. W. (2019). Comparing the influence of exercise intensity on brain-derived neurotrophic factor serum levels in people with Parkinson’s disease: a pilot study. Aging clinical and experimental research, 1-8.