Staying Fit Might Cut Men's Odds for ALS

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Key Takeaways

  • Men who make it a point to exercise may be lowering their risk for ALS

  • Research suggests that only a moderate level of exercise is necessary

  • The new study found no similar benefit for women, however

THURSDAY, June 27, 2024 (HealthDay News) -- The search for a cure for ALS has been elusive, but researchers may have identified a way to lower a man's risk in the long run.

Staying fit and getting moderate levels of exercise may lower the chances for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis in later life, Norwegian researchers reported June 26 in the journal Neurology

They did not find a similar link between physical activity and women's risk of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

"There have been conflicting findings on levels of physical activity, fitness and ALS risk," said study author Dr. Anders Myhre Vaage, of Akershus University Hospital in Norway. "Our study found that for men, living a more active lifestyle could be linked to a reduced risk of ALS more than 30 years later."

ALS is a neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Over time, people lose their ability to eat, speak, move and even breathe. There is no cure.

The new study included more than 373,000 people in Norway (average age, 41). During a followup that averaged 27 years, 504 developed ALS. Of those, 59% were men.

For the study, participants completed a questionnaire about their physical activity level. They listed their activity in one of four categories: sedentary; at least four hours a week of walking or cycling; at least four hours a week of heavy gardening or recreational sports; or participation several times a week in hard training or competitive sports.

So few of the participants put themselves in the most active group that researchers combined the top two categories into one "high-activity" group.

Of the close to 42,000 men who described themselves as most active, 63 developed ALS during the study. Of 77,000 participants with intermediate activity levels, 131 developed ALS, as did 68 of the 29,500 who were least active.

After accounting for factors such as smoking and body mass index, researchers found the most active group had a 41% lower risk than the least active group. Those with moderate levels of activity had a 29% lower risk.

So, the findings show that "not only do moderate to high levels of physical activity and fitness not increase the risk of ALS, but that it may be protective against the disease," Myhre Vaage said in a journal news release. "Future studies of the connection between ALS and exercise are needed to consider sex differences and higher, or professional athlete, activity levels."

Researchers noted that men in the lowest of four categories for resting heart rate -- a benchmark of being physically fit -- had a 32% lower risk of ALS compared to men with higher rates.

One limitation of the study was that the activity questionnaire was completed only once. As such, it may not have captured participants' exercise levels over time.

More information

The ALS Association has more about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

SOURCE: Neurology, news release, June 26, 2024

What This Means For You

An active lifestyle may offer some protection against ALS.

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