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Regular Moderate to Vigorous Exercise Associated With Decreased Risk of Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's disease is a progressive disorder of the nervous system. It often starts as a tremor in the hands but can lead to major disability and dementia. There is no cure for the disease and it is unclear if there are preventive steps. Physical activity is known to have several benefits for cardiovascular-related diseases and research has begun to show that it may have benefits in nervous system-related diseases as well.

Researchers from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences examined possible links between activity levels and development of Parkinson's disease. The study, published in Neurology, found that participants with higher levels of moderate-to-high activity were less likely to develop Parkinson's disease.

About the Study

Information for this study came from the National Institute of Health-American Association of Retired People Diet and Health Study. The participants, aged 50-71 years, completed questionnaires about diet and physical activity. They were then followed to look for development of disease from 1995-2006. This cohort study included 213,701 adults that had completed physical activity questionnaires recalling physical activity levels for about four time periods (during ages 15-18 years, 19-29 years, 35-39 years, and activity in last 10 years).

Parkinson's disease developed in 767 participants over 7-10 years. Participants that reported more than seven hours of moderate to vigorous activity per week during age 35-39 years had a 38% decrease in risk for Parkinson's compared to participants who rarely or never did moderate to vigorous activities. Light activities, like housework, were not associated with decreased risk of Parkinson's disease.

How Does This Affect You?

A cohort is a type of observational study. It is a collection of data that is examined for connections. The researchers in this type of study cannot control for other factors that may affect the outcome. As a result, outcomes from cohort studies are less reliable. In addition, this study was based on a recall of activity levels. Recalled fitness levels are more likely to be inaccurate compared to questionnaire of current activity. While this study suggests a benefits of activity for Parkinson'sdisease prevention it can not be confirmed as a preventative tool.

The actual cause of Parkinson's disease is not clear and is likely to have a variety of contributing factors. This study helps link increased physical activity to decreased risk of Parkinson's disease. Since excercising is so beneficial in many ways, it is not suprising that it may be beneficial in one more way. Although benefits in this study was strongest in participants aged 35-39 years, regular physical activity at any age may be beneficial in a variety of ways.




  • Xu Q, Park Y, Huang X, et al. Physical activities and future risk of Parkinson disease. Neurology. 2010 Jul 27;75(4):341-348.

Last reviewed July 2011 by Brian P. Randall, MD

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