Getting regular exercise such as cycling, walking, gardening, cleaning and participating in sports may decrease the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease in women, a study suggests.
Women who exercised the most had a 25% lower rate of the condition when compared to those who exercised the least.
The research also found that 10 years before diagnosis, levels of exercise fell at a faster rate in those with Parkinson’s than in those without, likely due to early symptoms of the disease.
Experts suggest the findings support the creation of exercise programmes to help lower the risk of Parkinson’s.
Study author Alexis Elbaz, of the Inserm research centre in Paris, France, said: “Exercise is a low-cost way to improve health overall, so our study sought to determine if it may be linked to a lower risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, a debilitating disease that has no cure.
“Our results provide evidence for planning interventions to prevent Parkinson’s disease.”
Dr Elbaz added: “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.
“Our results support the creation of exercise programmes to help lower the risk of Parkinson’s disease.”
The study included 95,354 female participants, mostly teachers, with an average age of 49 who did not have Parkinson’s disease at the start of the study.
The women were followed for three decades during which 1,074 of them developed Parkinson’s, and over the course of the study asked to complete up to six questionnaires.
They were asked how far they walked and how many flights of stairs they climbed daily, how many hours they spent on household activities as well as how much time they spent doing moderate recreational activities such as gardening and more vigorous activities such as sports.
Researchers assigned each activity a score based on the metabolic equivalent of a task (METs), a way to quantify energy expenditure.
For each activity, METs were multiplied by their frequency and duration in order to get a physical activity score of METs-hours per week.
For example, a more intense form of exercise like cycling was six METs, while less intense exercise such as walking and cleaning was three METs.
The average physical activity level for participants was 45 METs-hours per week at the start of the study.
Women in the study were divided into four equal groups of just over 24,000 people each.
At the start of the study, those in the highest group had an average physical activity score of 71 METs-hours per week, while those in the lowest had an average score of 27.
In the group that did the most exercise, there were 246 cases of Parkinson’s disease, compared to 286 cases in the lowest exercise group.
After adjusting for factors such as place of residence, age of first period and menopausal status, and smoking, researchers found those in the highest exercise group had a 25% lower rate of developing Parkinson’s disease than those in the lowest exercise group when physical activity was assessed up to 10 years before diagnosis.
They found this association remained when physical activity was assessed up to 15 or 20 years before diagnosis.
The results were similar after adjusting for diet or medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, researchers found.
The findings were published in the Neurology journal.