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Parkinson’s disease is a progressive, incurable neurodegenerative disorder that typically manifests later in life. It is characterized by motor features, such as tremors and a shuffling gait, but can include non-motor features as well, such as fatigue, sleep problems, and mood disorders. Findings from a new study suggest that dancing can slow the progression of both motor and non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

A growing body of evidence indicates that physical activities that incorporate learning or skill development are particularly beneficial for people with Parkinson’s disease. Skill-based exercises, such as tennis, yoga, and non-contact boxing, involve goal-oriented movement in which accuracy is important to accomplish the desired outcome. Elements of practice, repetition, feedback, and learning are features of exercise that may be beneficial for people with Parkinson’s disease.

The study involved 16 adults (average age, 69 years) with mild severity Parkinson’s disease. Participants attended a 75-minute structured, supervised dance class once a week for three years. The dancing including both high- and low-intensity activities. Age- and disease severity-matched adults who did not participate in the dance intervention served as a reference group. The authors of the study assessed the participants' motor and non-motor symptoms (and how those symptoms affected aspects of daily living) at various timepoints during the intervention, based on the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS), a widely accepted assessment of disease severity.

The assessments revealed that participants who engaged in the dance intervention experienced no motor impairment over the three-year study period. Those who did not dance (the reference group) showed normal motor declines during that time. Participants who danced also experienced no declines motor aspects of daily living (such as those related to speech and balance) or in non-motor aspects of daily living (such as cognitive function and mood).

These findings suggest that skill-based dancing slows the progression of motor and non-motor symptoms associated with Parkinson’s disease. This was a small study, however, so more research is needed to confirm these findings. Learn more about the benefits of skill-based exercise for people with Parkinson’s disease in this clip featuring Dr. Giselle Petzinger.

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