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Pedalling gives boost to Parkinson’s patients

A new study has revealed that people with Parkinson’s disease benefit from exercise programmes on stationary bicycles, with the greatest effect for those who pedal faster.
Functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging (fcMRI) data showed that faster pedaling led to greater connectivity in brain areas associated with motor ability.

Exercise is thought to have beneficial effects on Parkinson’s disease. Jay L. Alberts, Ph.D., neuroscientist at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute in Cleveland, saw this firsthand in 2003 when he rode a tandem bicycle across Iowa with a Parkinson’s disease patient to raise awareness of the disease. The patient experienced improvements in her symptoms after the ride.

As part of this inquiry, Dr. Alberts, researcher Chintan Shah, B.S., and their Cleveland Clinic colleagues, recently used fcMRI to study the effect of exercise on 26 Parkinson’s disease patients.  “By measuring changes in blood oxygenation levels in the brain, fcMRI allows us to look at the functional connectivity between different brain regions,” Shah said.

The patients underwent bicycle exercise sessions three times a week for eight weeks. Some patients exercised at a voluntary level and others underwent forced-rate exercise, pedaling at a speed above their voluntary rate. The researchers used a modified exercise bike to induce forced-rate activity. fcMRI was conducted before and after the eight weeks of exercise therapy and again as follow-up four weeks later.

The research team calculated brain activation and connectivity levels from the fcMRI results and correlated the data with average pedaling rate.  Results showed increases in task-related connectivity between the primary motor cortex and the posterior region of the brain’s thalamus. Faster pedaling rate was the key factor related to these improvements, which were still evident at follow-up.

Marine animals dissolving in Southern Ocean acid

Researchers have revealed that the shells of sea snails are dissolving in a small patch of the Southern Ocean, providing the first evidence that marine life is already suffering as a result of man-made ocean acidification.

“This is actually happening now,” New Scientist quoted Geraint Tarling of the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge, UK, as saying. The alarming situation came into light when Tarling and colleagues captured free-swimming sea snails called pteropods from the Southern Ocean in early 2008 and found under an electron microscope that the outer layers of their hard shells bore signs of unusual corrosion. In addition to warming the planet, the carbon dioxide humans emit is changing the chemistry of the ocean. CO2 dissolves in water to form carbonic acid, making the water less alkaline. According to scientists, the pH is currently dropping at about 0.1 per century, faster than any time in the last 300 million years.

Experiments in the labs have found that organisms with hard shells, such as corals and molluscs, will suffer as a result. To build their shells, corals and molluscs need to take up calcium carbonate from the water, but more carbonic acid means more hydrogen ions in the water. These react with carbonate ions, making them unavailable to form calcium carbonate.

The most vulnerable animals are those, like pteropods, that build their shells entirely from aragonite, a form of calcium carbonate that is very sensitive to extra acidity.

Aragonite-depleted regions are still rare, but they will become widespread by 2050, said Tarling. The polar oceans will change fastest, with the tropics following a few decades after.

Jumping for joy could land your kids in hospital

Inflatable Bounce Houses and Moonwalks — popular entertainment at birthday parties and amusement parks— can be hazardous to your child’s health, researchers have warned.

Researchers found 64,657 children under 18 were treated in hospital emergency rooms for inflatable-bouncer-related injuries from 1990-2010. And 55 percent of the walking wounded were boys. “We just don’t see these kinds of increases in the field of injury — it’s an epidemic by any measure,” the New York Daily News quoted Dr. Gary Smith, the study’s lead author and director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy in Columbus, Ohio, as saying. Most alarming was a 15-fold increase in injuries since 1995 from the inflatable Bounce Houses and Moonwalks. Between 2008 and 2010, the number of children who landed in the ER with fractures, sprains and worse more than doubled from 5,345 to 11,311.

 “We absolutely want kids to be physically active, but we want them to do it safely,” said Smith, who called for national standards, “like there are for trampolines,” to reduce the risk.

The study found fractures, strains and sprains were the most common types of injuries.

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