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Study: Exercise May Limit Effects of Parkinson's

Thursday January 21, 2010

CBS Broadcasting Inc - A small group of patients right here in Chicago is finding the tremors and impaired muscle coordination of Parkinson's disease can be minimized without medication.

David Berveiler's workouts with a trainer are about much more than getting in shape. Berveiler has Parkinson's Disease and moving his muscles has been a challenge for decades, reports CBS station WBBM-TV in Chicago.

"I suddenly found that for large portions of the day I couldn't move and for a week I was just scared, " said Berveiler, recalling the early days when the disease began to effect him.

Now after two years of these workout sessions, Berveiler is obviously feeling differently both physically and mentally.

"I believe I can virtually credit my survival to it," he said.

Berveiler gets a second workout of sorts as part of a study at Rush University Medical Center and the University of Illinois at Chicago. There researchers are gauging the impact of stretching and weight training on muscle control of Parkinson's patients when they aren't taking medication. Initial results are promising.

"We're finding people when they came in, they couldn't stand on one leg for one second and six months after the exercise program they are standing on a leg 20 seconds, 40 seconds, some people up to a minute," said Julie Robichaud, one of the study's researchers.

In Robichaud's lab, patients rest their arm on a bar and push it as best as possible while their muscle speed and exertion are recorded nearby. While a healthy patient could push the bar with one smooth muscle movement, Parkinson's patients require a series of muscle bursts.

But after six months of training, for some patients, five muscle bursts have been reduced to just two.

"This is new. I think your average neurologist, when they take care of a Parkinson's patient, they mention drugs they don't mention exercise, " said Dr. Cynthia Camilla with Rush University Medical Center -- who is part of the team running the study.

Physicians in the study say these first results indicate exercise can partially liberate patients from the drowsiness and motor complications that can be side effects of Parkinson's medication.

Berveiler knows he will never be medication free, but he sure likes how he's feeling now.

"The difference is between living like I am 85 or 90 all the time or having lots of times when I feel like I'm 30-years-old, " he said.

Forty-eight patients are taking part in the study, working out at least twice a week. Doctors say their muscle movements will never return to normal, but all are showing some sign of improvement.