Running Sprints Is Safe, Feasible for Those with Milder Parkinson’s, Study Finds

Joana Carvalho, PhD avatar

by Joana Carvalho, PhD |

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Sprint running is a safe and feasible form of physical exercise for people with mild-to-moderate Parkinson’s disease.

That is the conclusion reached in the study, “Sprint exercise for subjects with mild-to-moderate Parkinson’s disease: Feasibility and biomechanical outputs,” was published in Clinical Biomechanics.

Physical exercise has been recommended for people with Parkinson’s disease because it helps to maintain balance, posture, mobility, and the ability to perform normal daily activities.

“Particularly for subjects with PD [Parkinson’s disease], a high-intensity multimodal exercise program and intensive training on a stationary bicycle were reported as feasible and safe,” the researchers wrote.

Sprint running is a type of high intensity exercise in which individuals run short distances in limited periods of time as fast as they can. In healthy individuals, sprint running increases muscle strength, physical endurance, heart and lung function and mental health.

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“Although positive effects of sprint running have been reported for mouse models of PD, healthy subject and middle-aged adults, and for people with major depressive disorders, no study has investigated safety and feasibility of sprint running for individuals with PD,” the researchers wrote.

A team of Brazilian scientists decided to investigate whether sprint running could be a well-accepted, safe and feasible form of training exercise for people with mild-to-moderate Parkinson’s.

They compared the performance, satisfaction and acceptance of 20-meter (about 22-yard) sprint running training sessions among 16 men with Parkinson’s and 21 men who did not have the disease (controls). Satisfaction and acceptance were evaluated with a self-administered questionnaire, while exercise performance was determined based on biomechanic parameters — force, velocity and power — that were measured on high-speed video recordings of the sprint training sessions.

Two individuals with Parkinson’s decided to withdraw from the study. The remaining 14 patients and all individuals from the control group completed the study. Each participant, after a warm-up period, ran two sprints.

Self-administered questionnaires revealed that all participants were satisfied and felt the sprint training sessions were feasible and acceptable.

Investigators found some differences between the two groups in certain biomechanic parameters. For instance, they discovered the sprint maximal force and maximal power outputs were higher among patients with Parkinson’s, while mechanical effectiveness was higher among controls.

The maximal force and maximal power outputs refer to the maximum amount of force exerted horizontally and to the maximal mechanical power during sprint acceleration, respectively; mechanical effectiveness measures a runner’s ability to apply force against the ground more horizontally.

“Interestingly, no difference in velocity capabilities and overall 20-m[eter] sprint performance was observed between groups, possibly explained by different mechanical strategies in both groups over the sprint accelerations,” the researchers wrote.

Statistical analyses also showed that mechanical variables are important predictors of exercise performance in individuals with Parkinson’s disease.

Overall, running sprints seems to be a feasible and well-accepted exercise for those with mild-to-moderate Parkinson’s disease. Importantly, the team believes these results “are clinically relevant since sprint running could be used as a type of high-intensity exercise to rehabilitate this population with a high degree of acceptance.”

However, additional studies are required to further explore this possibility, by assessing the effects of sprint running on muscle strength, cardiorespiratory capacity, locomotion, motor symptoms, and other psychological aspects.

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