Background: Multiple exercise modalities and mindfulness activities are beneficial in Parkinson's Disease (PD). Karate is a martial art that combines aerobic and large-amplitude movements, balance and core training, and mindfulness, suggesting a potential benefit for individuals with PD from multiple perspectives.
Objective: To evaluate the feasibility of community-based Shotokan karate classes involving physical activity and mindfulness among individuals with mild- to moderate-stage PD, and to explore the effects of karate on objective and patient-reported outcomes.
Methods: We conducted a 10-week, unblinded trial of twice weekly, PD-specific karate classes. Feasibility was assessed by: dropout rates, adherence via attendance records, adverse effects and falls, and continued participation six months post-intervention. Participants completed pre- and post-intervention assessments of disease-related quality of life (Parkinson's Disease Questionnaire-8, PDQ-8), falls, and post-intervention assessment of change in overall wellbeing (Patient Global Impression of Change, PGIC), with exploratory measures of mobility using the Timed Up and Go (TUG), mood using the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS), and cognition using digit span forward and backward and the Symbol Digit Modalities Test (SDMT).
Results: Of 19 enrolled participants, 15 completed the study (79%). Among completers, mean adherence was 87% during the ten weeks of intervention, and 53% maintained karate participation six months later and endorsed sustained improvement, respectively. No adverse effects or change in fall frequency were detected. Among completers, 53% were women, and mean PD duration was 6 years (range 2-20). Quality of life improved to a clinically significant degree (PDQ-8: mean 25.3 (standard deviation (SD) 20.8) versus 19.3 (SD 19.6), p = 0.01, effect size 0.83). On the PGIC, 87% endorsed feeling moderately or considerably better. Mobility did not change significantly (TUG: 9.6 seconds (SD 2.23) versus 9.0 seconds (SD 1.89), p = 0.12, effect size 0.43), nor were there changes in overall physical activity, mood, or cognition (p = 0.35-0.92).
Conclusions: In a small, 10-week, unblinded trial of community-based karate classes for individuals with mild and moderate PD, high adherence was noted. Quality of life and wellbeing improved significantly, without changes in exploratory outcomes of mobility or neuropsychological outcomes. The study was underpowered, particularly for the exploratory outcomes. Controlled and longitudinal investigation is warranted to confirm our pilot findings and explore the long-term effects and sustainability of karate in PD.
Trial registration: Clinicaltrials.gov: NCT03555695.