Exercise has been shown to have many positive physical effects for people with PD including improved balance, posture, and mobility. But what impact does exercise — specifically aerobic exercise — have on cognitive function?
A systematic review of randomized controlled studies over 10 years (2007-2017) concludes:
Physical exercise programs promote positive and significant effects on global cognitive function, processing speed, sustained attention, and mental flexibility in people in mild to moderate stages of PD.
Exercise programs that had positive and significant effects on cognitive function were:
adapted tango dancing
cognitive training (Wii Fit™) combined with stretching, strengthening and spinal mobility
Notably, treadmill training (at 80–100% of preferred walking speed) performed 3 times a week for about 60 minutes and for an extended period (about 6 months) produced larger improvements in cognition.
Aerobic exercise, which has demonstrated greater benefit in areas of the brain involved in cognition and daily life functioning, may particularly affect executive function in PD.
According to studies included in the review:
Moderate-intensity aerobic exercise performed 2–3 times per week produced promising effects on the executive function of people in mild to moderate stages of PD
8 weeks of aerobic exercise, 3 times a week for 20–40 minutes, produced improvements in executive function, verbal fluency, and working memory in 3 patients with PD
Bottom Line: Research supports engaging in moderate to high-intensity aerobic exercise 3 times a week to improve cognitive function in mild to moderate stages of PD.