A group of scientists at the University of Sheffield have published a new article based on a recent study which reveals that regular and strenuous exercise increases the risk of motor neurone disease in people who are genetically vulnerable.
Motor neurone disease (MND), according to NHS UK, is an uncommon condition that affects the brain and nerves. It causes weakness that gets worse over time and there’s no cure. However, there are treatments to help reduce the impact it has on a person’s daily life. Some people live with the condition for many years, NHS said.
MND is generally believed to only affect people due to a combination of genetics and environmental factors that build up over a lifetime, but scientists now say there’s a connection between exercise and the disease.
Around one in 300 people will develop motor neurone disease, the new study finds.
“We have conclusively said exercise is a risk factor for motor neurone disease”, Dr Johnathan Cooper-Knock, one of the researchers, said.
“The numbers of high-profile athletes affected with MND is not a coincidence.”
The researchers analyzed data from the UK Biobank project, which has detailed genetic samples from half a million people.
They used a technique called Mendelian randomization to turn that data into an experiment, and showed people whose DNA makes them more likely to do strenuous activity were more likely to get MND.
Strenuous and regular exercise was defined as more than 15-30 minutes on more than 2-3 days per week. But obviously, most people who exercise that much do not develop motor neurone disease.
Dr Cooper-Knock said: “We don’t know who is at risk and we wouldn’t go as far as advising who should and shouldn’t exercise.
The scientists believe that low levels of oxygen in the body during strenuous exercise could be leading to a process called oxidative stress in the motor neurones – some of the biggest and most oxygen-demanding cells in the body.
“This may lead to damage and eventually cause the cells to die in people who have that genetic vulnerability.” They said.
Despite their new findings, the team at the University of Sheffield, however, said people should not stop exercising as a result.
“If everyone stopped exercising that would do more harm than good. “Prof Dame Pamela Shaw, the director of the Neuroscience Institute in Sheffield, said:
“This research goes some way towards unravelling the link between high levels of physical activity and the development of MND in certain genetically at-risk groups.”