Exercise Might Cut Your Risk of Parkinson’s Disease

Exercise Might Cut Your Risk of Parkinson’s Disease

Research out this month is the latest to bolster regular exercise as a way to prevent illness. The long-term study found that the risk of Parkinson’s disease was noticeably lower in women who reported the most physical activity, compared to those who were the most sedentary.

Exercise has proven to be one of the most impactful things you can do to stay healthy throughout any stage of life. Some previous studies have indicated that these benefits extend to preventing Parkinson’s, a neurodegenerative condition that progressively worsens people’s motor function. But, according to the authors of this new study, much of the earlier research has really only seen this protective effect in men, not women.

Another limitation found in past studies is the possibility of reverse causation, or the mistaken belief that factor A causes factor B, when it’s actually vice-versa. In this case, people with early Parkinson’s might stop or slow down their exercising before their condition becomes recognisable and diagnosed, rather than a lack of exercise being one reason why they developed the disorder.

To better understand the connection between exercise and Parkinson’s in women, and to help rule out reverse causation, the team behind the new work analysed data from a long-running study that proactively followed the health of women in France: the French E3N Cohort study. This study, which focused on women in the educational field with nationally provided health insurance, periodically surveys volunteers about their lifestyle habits and keeps track of their medical history, including whether they have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s or have been prescribed treatments for it.

The researchers looked at 29 years’ worth of data from the E3N Cohort (1990 to 2018). During that time, about 1,200 women developed Parkinson’s, and the study authors compared them to roughly 23,000 other women who didn’t develop it, acting as a sort of control group. They found that women with Parkinson’s reported less exercise on average than these controls throughout the study period, sometimes even decades before their diagnosis. In a separate analysis of nearly 100,000 women, the authors also found that women’s risk of Parkinson’s appeared to decline the more exercise they reported, with women in the highest quartile (the top 25th percentile) having a 25% lower incidence of Parkinson’s than those in the lowest.

The team’s study, published this month in Neurology, doesn’t definitively confirm a cause-and-effect relationship between exercise and lower Parkinson’s risk. But the long follow-up period is a key strength, and the findings bolster the case against reverse causation, since women with Parkinson’s in this study seemed to exercise less on average many years before their symptoms would have appeared.

“Physical activity has beneficial effects on many body systems, including the bones, heart and lungs,” senior study author Alexis Elbaz, a research professor at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research, told HealthDay News. “And our findings show that physical activity might also contribute to preventing or delaying Parkinson’s disease.”

Other studies have suggested that exercise can reduce people’s risk of other neurological conditions, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.