Exercise training may help improve cardiovascular and mitochondrial function in patients with Huntington’s disease, with little to no treatment-related adverse events, a review study suggests.
The study, “Exercise in Huntington’s Disease: Current State and Clinical Significance,” was published in the journal Tremor and Other Hyperkinetic Movements.
Huntington’s disease is a rare, inherited neurodegenerative disease for which there is currently no cure. Most treatment approaches are designed to ease its symptoms, but none have a long-term disease-modifying effect. The goal of these symptomatic treatments is to help maintain the quality of life and independence of a patient for as long as possible.
Multiple treatment approaches have been used to cope with the variety of Huntington’s symptoms, including physical and cognitive therapy and medications. In particular, physical therapy was integrated in the treatment process a long time ago to improve patients’ motor function.
Physical therapy for Huntington’s patients typically tends to focus on task-specific exercises to mimic and improve their ability to do daily living activities. Based on the similarity between some physical therapy strategies and resistance or endurance exercise, researchers believe these types of exercises could have a beneficial effect for Huntington’s patients.
Although growing evidence has demonstrated the benefits of exercise interventions, some studies have also suggested they could have damaging effects on these patients, including negative changes in energy metabolism in skeletal muscle (those used in voluntary movements).
To better understand the relationship between exercise and Huntington’s disease, researchers conducted a literature review to summarize the findings of previously published studies.
In a total of six studies, the team investigated several different outcomes of exercise intervention including safety, motor function, cognition, cardiovascular health, and mitochondrial function (which regulates energy availability).
Most studies revealed either improved or stable values for most of the investigated parameters during the exercise intervention period. In particular, exercise training resulted in beneficial effects on cardiovascular and mitochondrial function. Still, the effects of exercise reported on cognition, motor function, and body composition were less consistent, but a positive effect seems likely.
In addition, patients’ self-reported health-related quality of life during physical activity interventions was found to be stable, with most studies reporting no adverse events in response to exercise training.
Based on these findings, the researchers believe that exercise training is a safe and feasible activity for patients with Huntington’s disease. However, “current knowledge is mainly based on short, small-scale studies and it cannot be transferred to all Huntington’s patients,” they wrote.
Therefore, longer-term interventions with larger patient groups are still necessary “to draw firm conclusions about the potentially positive effects of exercise training in Huntington’s patients,” they said.