Background and purpose: Aerobic and strengthening exercises have been shown to benefit people with Parkinson's disease (PD) on the basis of highly structured, short-term, clinical protocols. This study extended previous research by investigating feasibility of an ongoing, community-based, group exercise program for people with PD on the basis of short-term (10 weeks) and long-term (14 months) data.
Methods: Twenty people with PD (Hoehn and Yahr stages I to III) participated in at least one of four 10-week sessions. Classes were held twice weekly for 1 hour and included strength, flexibility, and balance and walking exercises. Evaluations were done 1.5 hours after medication intake 1 week before and 1 week after each session. Gait speed, 6-Minute Walk test (6MWT), "Timed Up and Go" test, and grip strength were used to assess physical function. Analysis of short-term results were based on 18 participants (2 dropped out prior to posttest), and long-term results were based on 8 participants who started in the first session continued through the 14-month period.
Results: Attendance rates were moderate to high (73% overall). No injuries were reported. Wilcoxon signed ranks tests based on each participant's first 10-week session demonstrated significant improvements in 6MWT, and grip strength. Long-term participants showed significant improvements in grip strength, and a trend toward improved 6MWT. Gait speed and Timed Up and Go test did not change significantly in the short or long terms.
Discussion/conclusions: Our community-based group exercise program was safe, feasible, and appears to be effective. While some measures showed no improvement, there was no evidence of decline. This is an important outcome for persons with progressive neurological disorders, and suggests community-based group exercise is a promising option for people with PD.