Illustration: Jaedoo Lee

Exercise Is Medicine

Exercise Is the Answer for All That Ails You

Working out does more than simply prevent health problems. It can actually treat disease.

Markham Heid
Published in
14 min readJan 8, 2020

This story is part of Exercise Is Medicine, a special report from Elemental that covers the incredible healing benefits of exercise, why doctors are prescribing workouts, the science of exercise for depression, and expert-designed exercises anyone can do.

FFor a study published in 2019 in the Journal of the Neurological Sciences, a team of doctors at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio split up 59 people with Parkinson’s disease into two groups. Three days a week for eight weeks, both groups completed a 40-minute exercise session on a stationary bicycle. One of the groups rode at a high-intensity pace while the other group rode at their own slower pace.

By the end of the study period, both groups — but especially the high-intensity group — scored significantly better on several measures of mobility, including tasks that tested their flexibility and strength. A month after the study’s publication, one of its leaders received a $3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study whether exercise can actually slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease. If the study is successful, exercise could become the first known treatment to slow the progression of the condition.

Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative condition that affects roughly one million Americans. Slowly but ceaselessly, people with the disease experience cell death in a part of the brain known as the basal ganglia, which serves many functions but primarily controls movement and coordination. Hand tremors and jerky movements are typical during the early stages of Parkinson’s. Over time, these symptoms spread and worsen and are accompanied by a steady loss of stability, flexibility, and coordination as well as problems with thinking, mood, and memory.

According to a 2018 research review from the Mayo Clinic, no drug has ever demonstrated the ability to slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease. But the same Mayo Clinic review concludes that physical activity provides a “direct brain effect” that can both improve symptoms among people with Parkinson’s and, in some cases…



Markham Heid

I’m a long-time contributor at TIME and other media orgs. I write mostly about health. I grew up in Michigan, but these days I live in southwest Germany.

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