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Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative disorder that affects the central nervous system. New research suggests that exercise reduces the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. Women who regularly engaged in physical activity were 25 percent less likely to develop the disease than inactive women.

Researchers gathered information about the lifestyles and medical histories of more than 99,000 women and categorized them according to their activity levels. Then, using a statistical method that accounted for the reduced activity that might precede a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, they investigated the effects of exercise on Parkinson’s disease risk.

They found that physical activity levels were consistently lower in women who developed Parkinson’s disease than in those who did not, even up to 29 years before the disease was diagnosed. The difference between the two groups became more pronounced around 10 years before diagnosis. Overall, women with the highest activity levels had a 25 percent lower risk of developing Parkinson’s disease than those with the least activity, even after considering other risk factors.

These findings suggest that exercise protects women against Parkinson’s disease. The mechanisms that drive this protective effect may be related to exercise’s capacity to regulate key neurotransmitters, promote the release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), ameliorate brain inflammation, and reduce oxidative stress. Interestingly, exercise also benefits people after they have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Learn more in this clip featuring Dr. Giselle Petzinger.

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