In a new study, researchers found that a physically active lifestyle is associated with close to a 30% reduced risk for Parkinson’s Disease (PD).
This might be explained by a motor reserve among the physically active, however, this dissipates as individuals age.
The research was conducted by a team at Skåne University Hospital and elsewhere.
PD is a slowly progressive disorder that affects movement, muscle control, and balance.
It is the second most common age-related neurodegenerative disorder affecting about 3% of the population by the age of 65 and up to 5% of individuals over 85 years of age.
Previous studies have shown the enormous benefits of exercise in many disorders including neurodegenerative diseases, but the reasons are not always clear.
To better understand the relationship between physical activity and PD, the team analyzed medical records of nearly 200,000 long-distance skiers who took part in the Vasaloppet cross-country ski race.
They followed 197,685 participants in the Vasaloppet, an annual cross-country ski race of up to 90 km, from 1989 to 2010 and compared them to 197,684 age-matched non-skiers.
The team found that the skiers were almost 30% less likely to develop PD than non-skiers.
However, this dissipates with time and increasing age and results in diagnoses of PD among skiers matching the general population.
The team says individuals who are physically well-trained have a greater motor reserve, which for every given level of Parkinson’s brain damage would result in fewer motor symptoms thus delaying the diagnosis of PD.
This is analogous to the well-established concept of cognitive reserve in dementia in which the well-educated can sustain more brain pathology without clinical dementia.
It highlights the importance of staying physically active throughout life in order to have a reserve to better cope when the frailties and diseases of old age inevitably arrive.
If a person is physically active, it may be possible to maintain mobility for longer, despite the pathological changes in the brain.
The study also shows exercise does not offer complete protection against PD. It supports the motor reserve of the brain, and as such, probably helps to postpone rather than fully prevent the onset of manifest Parkinson’s symptoms.
The lead author of the study is Tomas T. Olsson, MD, Department of Neurology.
The study is published in the Journal of Parkinson’s Disease.
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