THE FREE EXERCISE STATE Walking will become the official exercise of the Free State if Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) signs a bill passed by the Maryland General Assembly. Del. William A. Bronrott (D-Mongtomery), sponsor of the bill, credits a Montgomery County third-grade class with the idea. The bill was nearly killed by state senators who felt the legislature had better things to do. The law would allocate no offical resources to the healthful activity -- no money, no staff, no state agency, no blue-ribbon commission. But the increased visibility is worth it, Bronrott says, citing walking's ability to promote health, reduce state health expenditures, promote tourism, reduce road congestion and help families spend time together.

DHEA AND ALZHEIMER'S? FORGET IT, FOR NOW A small study of the dietary supplement DHEA published in the journal Neurology suggests it does not benefit the mental functioning of those with Alzheimer's disease. Study participants taking the artificial hormone, often used by bodybuilders and touted as an anti-aging nostrum, reported no "significant improvements" in mental performance, but did report more agitation, anxiety and confusion than those taking a placebo. (More subjects taking the placebo quit the study, however.) Researchers believe DHEA may eventually complement other Alzheimer's therapies, but "people should not go out and try DHEA on their own in hopes of stemming Alzheimer's disease."

HONG KONG: FEEL THE FEVER Hong Kong, badly hit by the deadly SARS virus, has withdrawn its new tourism slogan: "Hong Kong will take your breath away." Shortness of breath is a symptom of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), a new disease that as of late last week had killed 30 people in Hong Kong and infected nearly 1,000 there. "As soon as the SARS outbreak began, we realized, obviously, it would be pretty embarrassing," Simon Clennell, assistant manager of the Hong Kong Tourism Board, said on Thursday. SARS has devastated Hong Kong's tourism, entertainment and retail sectors.

-- From news services and staff reports