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Athletes less likely to develop Parkinson's

A lifestyle that includes lots of exercise and preferably intensive exercise or exercise outdoors offers protection against Parkinson's disease. This has been confirmed in a recent Finnish/Chinese epidemiological study.

Exercise versus Parkinson's
Several large-scale epidemiological studies have been done on the relationship between exercise and Parkinson's. Most of these have shown that physical exercise itself reduces the chances of developing Parkinson's, but that the effect is not particularly convincing. [J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2006 Dec;77(12):1318-22.]

In April 2014, Finnish researchers published the results of a study in the European Journal of Epidemiology in which they had followed nearly 7000 men and women aged 50-79 for almost 25 years. [Eur J Epidemiol. 2014 Apr;29(4):285-92.] The Finns discovered that the participants who engaged in intensive physical exercise during their free time were considerably less likely to develop Parkinson's than the participants who spent their free time sitting on their butts.

Intensive physical exercise reduced the risk of developing the disease by a factor of four. Non-intensive physical exercise had less effect.

Athletes less likely to develop Parkinson's

Athletes less likely to develop Parkinson's

Exercise outdoors
There are indications that physical exercise outdoors offers slightly more protection against Parkinson's that activities done indoors. This is suggested by epidemiological studies which show that people who work outdoors develop Parkinson's less frequently. [Parkinsonism Relat Disord. 2013 Dec;19(12):1164-6.] [Occup Environ Med. 2011 Apr;68(4):273-8.]

Neurologists at Harbin Medical University in China recently published the results of a study in which they compared two hundred people who had just been diagnosed with Parkinson's with two hundred people who had not. The Chinese also discovered that people who were active a lot outdoors were protected against Parkinson's.

Athletes less likely to develop Parkinson's

Vitamin D
The Chinese suspect that one of the factors involved in outdoor exercise protecting against Parkinson's might be sunlight. Sunlight induces the skin to manufacture vitamin D, and a high vitamin D level reduces the chance of developing Parkinson's. [Neurol Sci. 2014 Nov;35(11):1723-30.]

There are plenty of studies that have been published that show that lab animals with an artificial form of Parkinson's function better if they run in treadmills. [Neuroscience. 2003;119(3):899-911.] [J Neurosci. 2007 May 16;27(20):5291-300.] [Neurosci Lett. 2007 Aug 9;423(1):12-7.] [Brain Res Bull. 2009 Aug 14;79(6):452-7.] [Parkinsonism Relat Disord. 2009 Dec;15 Suppl 3:S42-5.] [Brain Res. 2010 Jun 23;1341:72-83.] [Behav Brain Res. 2010 Dec 1;213(2):253-62.] [Brain Behav Immun. 2011 Jan;25(1):135-46.] [J Neural Transm. 2011 Mar;118(3):407-20.]

One of the things these studies show is that exercise reduces the effect of the substances the researchers use to induce Parkinson's in the lab animals. The animal studies also show that stress reduces the positive effects of exercise [Behav Brain Res. 2005 Dec 7;165(2):210-20.] and that the positive effects are not the result of damaged brain cells recovering. [Neuroscience. 2007 Feb 9;144(3):1141-51.] Exercise probably stimulates the production of growth factors in the brain, as a result of which the brain cells are better capable of dealing with the damage caused by Parkinson's.

So does that mean that intensive exercise can also offer protection to people who already have Parkinson's? Watch this space.

J Zhejiang Univ Sci B. 2014 Oct;15(10):923-7.

Lifting weights protects against Parkinson's 20.12.2011