Some Colorado researchers want to know if exercise can slow down Parkinson's disease. They are studying newly diagnosed patients, not yet on medication.
"It wasn't a good year for me," said Mike Cunningham.
That's an understatement. In June 2013, Cunningham's home went up in flames in the black forest fire.
"Everything burned, trees, nothing's left," said Cunningham.
In July 2013 Cunningham was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, a disabling condition of the brain.
"My hand shakes all the time," he said.
Cunningham is 51 and so far tremors are his most troubling symptom.
"You just don't know how fast your symptoms with Parkinson's are gonna get worse," said Cunningham.
So, he enrolled in an ongoing exercise study at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Participants are newly diagnosed and not yet on medication.
"Many people tell us that they function better when they exercise," said Dr. Margaret Schenkman.
But Schenkman wants to know whether moderate or more vigorous exercise is 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," Schenkman said.
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.
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