Parkinson's disease (PD) adversely affects information processing and motor performance. The impact of aerobic exercise on modifying the deleterious effects of PD underlying information and motor control processes is not well established. The primary aim of this project was to determine the effects of an 8-week high intensity exercise intervention on information processing and movement execution in individuals with PD. A secondary aim sought to understand the effects of antiparkinsonian medication relative to exercise on motor control processes. Data were collected at baseline (on- and off-medication) and upon completion of the exercise intervention (off-medication). Information processing and motor execution were evaluated via simple and choice reaction time paradigms (SRT and CRT) performed on a mobile device. Neither exercise nor medication impacted information processing or movement execution under the SRT paradigm. However, under CRT, exercise improved movement execution and information processing: total time was significantly reduced from 814 to 747 ms (p < 0.001), reaction time improved from 543 to 502 ms (p < 0.001), movement time improved from 270 to 246 ms (p = 0.01), and movement velocity improved from 28 cm/sec to 30 cm/sec (p = 0.01). Improvements in total time and reaction time in the CRT paradigm persisted 4 and 8 weeks following exercise cessation. Antiparkinsonian medication improved motor execution, but not information processing. The improvement in information processing following aerobic exercise, but not levodopa administration, suggests high intensity exercise may be enhancing neural processing and non-motor pathways outside those impacted by medication. The persistence of symptom improvement despite exercise intervention cessation indicates exercise is a candidate for disease modification. Trial registration: The trial was first registered at ClinicalTrials.gov on 7/10/2012 under registration number NCT01636297.
Keywords: Aerobic exercise; Disease; Information processing; Parkinson’s; Reaction time.