Emerging research shows that cardiorespiratory exercise isn’t just good for the heart but can also prevent the onset of autoimmune diseases, such as psoriasis. Dr. Marta Laskowski, a doctoral student at the University of Gothenburg, a resident physician at the Sahlgrenska University Hospital, and first author explains her study on the connection between cardiorespiratory fitness and psoriasis.
Chasing Answers: Is There a Link Between Exercise & Psoriasis?
The importance of regular exercise has been increasingly recognized over the past several decades, leading physicians across the globe to prescribe exercise as a way to help patients strengthen their hearts, lower their blood pressure, and improve their overall brain function.
But a new study shows that cardiorespiratory exercise may also prevent the onset of psoriasis and other autoimmune diseases.
Psoriasis: Not Just a Singular-System Disease
Dr. Marta Laskowski, a doctoral student in dermatology at the University of Gothenburg and resident physician at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, and her colleagues recently set out to explore the connection between cardiorespiratory exercise and psoriasis, an autoimmune disease characterized by patches of flaky skin on the elbows or knees. Because according to Dr. Laskowski, psoriasis is more of a multi-system disease than clinicians had previously believed.
“Patients with psoriasis have an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease,” she explained. “We also know that people with low levels of cardiorespiratory fitness also have an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease. But when it comes to the relationship between cardiorespiratory fitness and psoriasis, not much research has been done.”
Assessing the Role of Exercise in Psoriasis
To discover if there was a link between cardiorespiratory exercise and psoriasis, Dr. Laskowski and her colleagues assessed more than 1.2 million male recruits enlisted in the Swedish Armed Forces between the years 1968 and 2005. At the age of 18, the men underwent a fitness test on an exercise bike and were divided into groups based on their level of fitness, categorized as either low, medium, or high fitness.
The researchers merged this data with other registers using Sweden’s National Patient Register to gather diagnostic codes for psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.
The men were then reassessed at a later point in their lives, between the ages of 37 and 51, and the researchers identified approximately 20,700 cases of new-onset psoriasis and more than 6,100 cases of new-onset psoriatic arthritis
What’s interesting is that those with the lowest level of physical fitness at conscription had a 35 percent increased risk of developing psoriasis and a 44 percent increased risk of developing psoriatic arthritis.
Exercising the Results in a Clinical Setting
While Dr. Laskowski believes that the results of the study are very reliable, several limitations challenged her throughout its course.
“We only had one single measurement of cardiorespiratory fitness levels…we don’t really know how fitness levels changed in the individual,” Dr. Laskowski explained. “We did not have data on physical activity levels or smoking, both of which are known to affect the risk of new-onset psoriasis.”
However, due to the large sample size and the reliability of the registers used, Dr. Laskowski has faith in the accuracy of her study’s results.
“Me and my co-authors would like other clinicians to know that low fitness levels are an important risk factor for negative health outcomes, including psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis,” she explained. “Cardiorespiratory fitness isn’t discussed very much as a risk factor, and also, cardiorespiratory fitness is rarely assessed in the clinical practice. So, I think that identifying individuals with low fitness levels early could give us could give us and other clinicians an opportunity to improve patient management and hopefully prevent morbidity.”