Aerobic exercise to improve executive function in Parkinson disease: a case series

J Neurol Phys Ther. 2013 Jun;37(2):58-64. doi: 10.1097/NPT.0b013e31829219bc.


Background and purpose: Parkinson disease (PD) affects cognition, specifically executive function. In people with PD, impaired executive function has been identified as an indicator of fall risk and decreased quality of life. Therefore, it is important to consider impaired executive function in the physical therapy management of PD. It has been established that exercise improves cognition in older adults and emerging evidence suggests a similar effect in people with neurological conditions. We assessed changes in executive function in an aerobic exercise intervention in 2 people with cognitive impairments due to PD.

Case description: Two individuals with PD participated in this case series. Participant 1 was a 61-year-old woman with PD dementia, who had PD for 14 years. Participant 2 was a 72-year-old man with mild cognitive impairments, who had PD for 7 years.

Intervention: The participants completed an 8-week program of aerobic exercise training on a stationary bicycle. Primary outcome measures examined executive function, and secondary measures examined disease severity, quality of life, and walking function.

Outcomes: Both participants demonstrated improvements in all measures of executive function and quality of life. Participant 1 also made improvements in walking function.

Discussion: Our outcomes provide preliminary evidence of improved executive function following aerobic exercise in people with PD with cognitive impairments. Larger studies are needed to confirm these findings and investigate whether a causal relationship exists between exercise and improved executive function in persons with PD, and how these impact motor performance and quality of life measures.Video Abstract available (see Video, Supplemental Digital Content 1, for more insights from the authors.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Exercise / psychology*
  • Exercise Therapy / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Parkinson Disease / psychology
  • Parkinson Disease / rehabilitation*
  • Treatment Outcome