New research published in the online issue of Neurology suggests getting regular exercise may decrease the risk of developing Parkinson disease (PD). The study included 95,354 female participants, mostly teachers, with an average age of 49 years who were not diagnosed with PD at the start of the study. Researchers followed participants for 3 decades during which 1074 participants developed PD. The study reported that participants who exercised the most had a 25% lower rate of PD when compared to those who exercised the least. Results show an association only and do not prove causation.
Data included in this study came from up to 6 self-reported questionnaires per participant which documented types and amounts of physical activity along with other demographic and health behaviors. Researchers assigned a score for activities based on energy expenditure using the metabolic equivalent of a task (METs) measure and then calculated METs-hours per week based on frequency and duration of reported physical activities. METs-hours per week ranged from 27 METS-hours per week for those who exercised the least to 71 METs-hours per week for those who exercised the most.
Over the course of the study, 246 cases of PD (0.55 cases per 1000 person-years) were reported in those who exercised the most compared with 286 cases (0.73 cases per 1000 person-years) for those in the lowest exercise group. Researchers found that the association between the highest exercise group and a lower risk of developing PD remained after adjusting for a variety of factors, including age, smoking status, diet, medical conditions, and number of years studied.
“With our large study, not only did we find that female participants who exercise the most have a lower rate of developing Parkinson’s disease, we also showed that early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease were unlikely to explain these findings, and instead that exercise is beneficial and may help delay or prevent this disease,” said author Alexis Elbaz, MD, PhD. “Our results support the creation of exercise programs to help lower the risk of Parkinson’s disease.”
One of the limitations of the study was participant demographics which consisted of mostly health-conscious educators volunteering to participate in a long-term study.