It’s a new year and time to renew my resolution to continue exercising at least 4 -5 times per week. As 2017 came to a close a new research study was published that shows high intensity interval training (HIIT) delays Parkinson’s progression. As Daniel Corcos, one of the lead authors of the study states “If you have Parkinson’s disease and you want to delay the progression of your symptoms, you should exercise three times a week with your heart rate between 80 and 85 percent maximum. It is that simple.” If you query Google for High Intensity Exercise and Parkinson’s you will find an abundance of articles about this study, here is the link to one of them from Science Daily.
While the need to exercise for PD patients has been shown in many studies, this was one of the first to be conducted for 6 months instead of 12 weeks. The participants were divided into three groups, HIIT exercise, moderate exercise and no exercise. All scored about 20 on a PD scale of 0 – 108 before the study. When scored after the 6 months The HIIT group showed no change while the moderate group got worse by 1.5 points and the no exercise group worsened by 3 points or about a 15% change.
Although the primary exercise used during this study was the treadmill, Kathy, our Parkinson’s cycling instructor immediately figured that we can step up our cycling program to include high intensity intervals and start raising our aerobic fitness level. So, even though many of us thought we were doing high intensity training already (well at least I did), she started pushing us to reach the 80 – 85% heart rate after Thanksgiving. Almost every workout has incorporated HIIT and I am already starting to see a change in just 6 weeks. The first few sessions I found I had to lower the gear to finish the workout. But each time I felt I was getting stronger and this week I was able to increase instead of decrease the gear and still maintain the required 80 – 90 RPM. I am happy with that progress and I am noticing a reduction in my symptoms after exercise including not feeling ‘off’ a half hour or so before it’s time to take my medicines on the day of exercise.
But I wondered what is happening to my aerobic fitness? Then I discovered that my Fitbit app is keeping track of my cardio fitness! The app determined my heart rate zones and then uses those zones and my resting heart rate to compute a cardio fitness score. As you can see in this screen shot on the left, Fitbit has determined that, for me, a heart rate greater than 126 is my peak zone and my cardio zone is 104 – 125. The peak range is approximately 80% of my maximum heart rate so anything above that would be considered high intensity exercise.
The app also graphs my heart rate for the entire day so I can tell from that graph how long I was in the peak zone. The screen shot on the left is for 1/2/18 which includes a cycling class.
So I was in the ‘zone’ for 9 minutes during the class which corresponds to intervals where we pushed up to 85 or 90 RPM for short periods.
And here are screen shots showing my cardio fitness as computed by Fitbit on November 16, 2017 and January 2, 2018. So, in theory, I’ve already improved my Cardio Fitness by a point since we started the HIIT. But just as important is that fact that either score is considered excellent by Fitbit where the average score for men over 60 is 27.2 – 31.0.
Between cycling twice a week, playing tennis 2 -3 times a week and the Dance for PD class I am staying fit, slowing the progression of my Parkinson’s and having fun. We will revisit my cardiac score in a month or so to see if the trend continues or maybe I’m maxed out!
So my New Year’s resolution this year is the same as last year, keep exercising and keep fighting PD. By the way, if you are interested in Pedaling for Parkinson’s, check out this video from the Sarasota YMCA website of one of Kathy’s classes and watch us having fun doing intervals!