Never too late to exercise – you don’t need to be an athlete 

As a PhD student researching in aging related disease – Parkinson’s disease, I kept questioning myself: should I devote all my passion and career into unpredictable research results or turn my path back to my original education in medicine by treating patients with different medical conditions? This is a tricky puzzle.

Illustration of Parkinson’s disease by William Richard Gowers, which was first published in A Manual of Diseases of the Nervous System in 1886 (Source: wikipedia)

To date, hundreds and possibly thousands of genes have been identified in relation to aging and its related diseases, but scientists still know surprisingly little about why and how exactly we age and suffer from those diseases. Although the exact functions of some genes are clear to us now, still most of them remain in mystery without telling us a word. The scientists could only see the outcome of them in cells or in DNA levels.

We are, however, humans who are built up by billions and billions of cells, and live in Earth with many things around us. Personally I do not put my faith and life to my genes, which together may account only for 25% of my longevity. Instead, I would try to intervene and change my surrounding environment factors, which mathematically has greater chance to extend my life expectancy and prevent aging related diseases.

I knew that physical exercise is beneficial for our health and it has been demonstrated for us in decades, through all kinds of scientific literature, school textbook, and general public/commercial media. It was named, which I also believed in, as it is the fact that physical exercise is fundamentally fighting against humans’ most life threatening events – aging and its related disease. Results in scientific research have suggested that physical exercise is helpful for slowing the process of aging and preventing dementia, although these epidemiological evidences may not be applicable to each individual per se.

In my research field, Parkinson’s disease, given its certain similarity in pathology with dementia, interestingly, there was not enough data to support the favorable effect of physical exercise. However, I am extremely happy to announce that my new study, as the first author published online in Brain: A Journal of Neurology today, found that “a medium amount” of physical activity lowers the risk of Parkinson’s disease. In this study, I and my colleagues found that individuals could benefit from physical activity for Parkinson by a normal and health daily physical activities, not only by professional physical training/exercise as previous studies suggested.

I am a snowboard maniac, but I don’t do much in any other activities except cleaning my apartment. The results in this study, may be a comfort for me, suggesting that I will have less chance to get Parkinson’s disease compared to a hypothetical me who “physically lives exactly the same” in a parallel universe but does not snowboard. I also think the results will motivate me continuing in research. Because I know, I can save some patients’ lives if I work in clinic, but I will also lose many patients for which diseases have no cure. If I keep working in research, one day, my results may help change those patients’ destines.

If you are interested in this recent publication, PLEASE check the original press release at the Brain and Karolinska Institutet. Results in this paper are also covered by many public social media channels today in English and in Swedish, including Fox NewsRadio SwedenForskning, and Vårdförbundet (The Swedish Association of Health Professionals), etc.

Details of the article can be found in Brain’s website.

/Terry.Fei

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