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Science News

Study: Exercise may prevent Parkinson's

Men who engaged in regular, vigorous exercise as teens and young adults drastically cut their risk of developing Parkinson's disease later in life, a study reports Tuesday.

As many as 1 million people in the USA, including actor Michael J. Fox, have this progressive neurological disease, which commonly strikes after age 50. In addition to suggesting that exercise could ward off the disease, the findings also raise the hope that physical activity might help hold the line on brain cell destruction in people who already have it.

Robin Elliott, executive director of the Parkinson's Disease Foundation in New York, said the study is promising because there is no cure for Parkinson's. Doctors today have no way to stop or delay the progression of the disease, which affects the brain region that controls movement. Common symptoms of Parkinson's are tremors and a shuffling gait.

Researcher Alberto Ascherio of the Harvard School of Public Health and his colleagues studied 48,000 men and 77,000 women who were relatively healthy and middle-aged or older at the study's start. Over the course of the study, 387 people developed the disease.

The team did a statistical analysis to look for a link between physical activity and the risk of Parkinson's.

Men who said they jogged, played basketball or participated in some other vigorous activity at least twice a week in high school, college and up to age 40 had a 60% reduced risk of getting Parkinson's, says the study, which was published today in Neurology.

The team found no such protection for women. But the women in this study came of age in the '50s and '60s, an era when young women did not have as many opportunities to participate in sports, Ascherio says. The study had so few female athletes that any protection may have been missed, he says.

This study's findings are supported by animal research: Michael Zigmond, a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh and his colleagues have reported that exercise protects rats from developing a Parkinson's-like disease.

No one knows for certain whether exercise can prevent or delay the symptoms of Parkinson's in humans. But there is plenty of evidence suggesting that a regular fitness regimen might ward off a host of ailments as diverse as heart disease and Alzheimer's. That leads experts such as Zigmond to recommend a vigorous workout on most days of the week. "We know that exercise is good for you in ways that go beyond any one condition."

Source Date: Feb 22 2005
Source Publication: USA Today
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