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Parkinson’s And Exercise: CU Study Aims To Show Disease Progression

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DENVER (CBS4)- Some researchers in Colorado want to know if exercise can slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease. They’re studying newly diagnosed patients who have not been placed on medication.

In July 2013 Mike Cunningham was diagnosed with Parkinson’s just one month after his house burned down in the Black Forest Fire.

“It wasn’t a good year for me,” said Cunningham. “Everything burned, trees, nothing’s left.”

Parkinson’s is a disabling condition of the brain.

“My hand shakes all the time,” said Cunningham.

He’s 51 years old but so far the tremors are his most troubling symptom.

“You just don’t know how fast your symptoms with Parkinson’s are going to get worse,” said Cunningham.

That’s when he decided to enroll in an ongoing exercise study at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

Participants are newly diagnosed with the disease and have not been put on medication.

“Many people tell us that they function better when they exercise,” said researcher Dr. Margaret Schenkman.

She wants to know whether moderate or more vigorous exercise is the best.

“If we can determine that then we can go on to the next step which is to determine whether that actually changes the brain,” said Schenkman.

Cunningham worked out four times a week for 30 minutes at between 80 to 85 percent of his maximum heart rate.

“It’s so nice because you feel normal because you know when you’re running, I’m not shaking,” said Cunningham.

In about a year Schenkman expects to know what dose of exercise helps the most. Her next study will include brain scans to see if that level of physical activity can actually change the brain and prolong quality of life for people with Parkinson’s.

Researchers are still looking for more people with Parkinson’s to join the study. Those interested can call Toby Wellington at the University of Colorado School of Medicine at 720-848-6376.

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