expert reaction to study looking at physical exercise as a risk factor for motor neurone disease


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A study published in EBioMedicine looks at physical exercise and development of the neurodegenerative condition, motor neurone disease (MND).

Prof Martin Turner,

“This study adds to a long-observed but essentially anecdotal observation that those seen in specialised MND clinics frequently report lifelong high levels of physical activity or athleticism. These resonate with occupational risk associations made epidemiologically to professional football, rugby and military service, plus the eponymous baseball player Lou Gehrig (known as The Iron Horse for his physical prowess). However, there is also epidemiological evidence for lower premorbid body mass index in those going on to develop MND, and emerging evidence of a potentially different metabolic profile, including blood lipid differences many years before the onset of symptoms, suggesting a broader set of factors that might overlap with exercise. This type of genetic analysis is powerful but does not yet exclude the interpretation that those developing MND in later life happen to more commonly have the sort of physical or metabolic make-up that then makes them more likely to undertake exercise. It is certainly possible that there are sub-groups of people for who later-life physical over-exertion may be more harmful and contributes one of several ‘hits’ needed to develop MND. This needs more focused study. Importantly however, this study does not show that any increased risk of physical activity in carriers of high-risk genetic variants outweighs the much more solidly established cardiovascular, cancer and mental health benefits of exercise.”



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