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Exercise can cut women's chances of getting Parkinson's by 25 percent

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Getting regular exercise may reduce a woman's chances of developing Parkinson's disease by as much as 25 percent, according to research published in the journal Neurology.

It involved 95,354 women, who were an average of age 49 and did not have Parkinson's when the study began. The researchers compared the women's physical exercise levels over nearly three decades, including such activities as walking, cycling, gardening, stair climbing, house cleaning and sports participation.

In that time, 1,074 women developed Parkinson's. The study found that as a woman's exercise level increased, her risk for Parkinson's decreased. Those who got the most exercise — based on timing and intensity — developed the disease at a 25 percent lower rate than those who exercised the least.

The researchers wrote that the study's findings "suggest that physical activity may help prevent or delay [Parkinson's disease] onset."

Parkinson's disease is a neurodegenerative disorder, meaning it is a progressive disease that affects the nervous system and parts of the body controlled by nerves. It is sometimes referred to as a movement disorder because of the uncontrollable tremors, muscle stiffness, and gait and balance problems it can cause, but people with Parkinson's also may experience sleep problems, depression, memory issues, fatigue and more.

The symptoms generally stem from the brain's lack of production of dopamine, a chemical that helps control muscle movement. No cure exists for Parkinson's, but treatments to relieve symptoms include medication, lifestyle adjustments and surgical procedures, such as deep brain stimulation.

Most people diagnosed with Parkinson's are 60 or older. About 500,000 people in the United States have been diagnosed with Parkinson's, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, which notes "the actual number is likely much higher" — perhaps reaching 1 million — because so many people are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.

This article is part of The Post's "Big Number" series, which takes a brief look at the statistical aspect of health issues. Additional information and relevant research are available through the hyperlinks.

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