Physical Activity May Help Huntington’s Patients, Review Study Finds

José Lopes, PhD avatar

by José Lopes, PhD |

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exercise and physical activity improve Huntington's disease

Exercise and physical activity may benefit patients with Huntington’s disease (HD), a new review study shows.

The study, “Physical Therapy and Exercise Interventions in Huntington’s Disease: A Mixed Methods Systematic Review,” appeared in the Journal of Huntington’s Disease.

Significant research shows that exercise and physical therapy improve the ability to conduct daily activities, cognitive function, and quality of life of patients with neurodegenerative diseases.

Current pharmacological approaches for HD do not alter disease progression and are not able to successfully manage motor symptoms. In contrast, exercise interventions may provide patients with long-term benefit, help them maintain independence and potentially slow the progression of the disease.

Despite the Physiotherapy Guidance Document from the European Huntington’s Disease Network (EHDN) and other treatment-based classifications, patients with HD still need more rigorous clinical guidelines that could result from a systematic review of the available literature.

Researchers determined the effectiveness of therapeutic exercise and physical therapy in patients with HD and assessed the perceptions of patients, family members, and caregivers, by reviewing a total of 20 studies published from 2003 and 2016. Reviewed studies included both quantitative and qualitative outcome measures.

Results exhibited evidence that exercise and physical activity improve motor function, gait speed, and balance. Feasible interventions include supervised gym, stationary cycling with or without unsupervised home-based walking, and strengthening programs.

“Future studies to determine optimal dosages and the long-term effects of aerobic and strengthening exercise programs on functional capacity in individuals with HD are needed,” the authors wrote. Assessments of verbal learning, memory, sleep, bowel function, and blood pressure also are required, the authors observed.

Preliminary results also showed that home-based respiratory muscle training led to small to moderate improvements in swallowing, dyspnea (shortness of breath), walking endurance, pulmonary function, and cough efficacy.

In addition, patient-reported outcomes suggest that HD patients may obtain other benefits from exercise and physical activity, such as improved self-confidence, independence, and social life. Increased involvement of caregivers was identified as a relevant facilitator of exercise engagement.

Overall, the results show that “exercise and physical therapy are important interventions that should be considered as primary intervention strategies in all patients with HD,” Lori Quinn, PhD, the review’s senior author, said in a press release. Quinn is the director of the Neurorehabilitation Research Lab at Teachers College, Columbia University

“These interventions have the potential to not only improve daily activity performance, function, and quality of life, but also to meaningfully impact disease progression,” she added.

However, the authors cautioned that the diverse intervention protocols and outcome measures may limit the interpretation of the findings. Therefore, high-quality, long-term clinical trials are needed. Further studies also are required to evaluate if benefits are achieved through a specific intervention or due to a combination of approaches.