PALO ALTO, CA–While exercise is important physical therapy for Parkinson’s disease, it might be more than that.

A study in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology looked at the association between physical fitness and the onset of Parkinson’s disease and association with cardiovascular risk factors.1

A study team led by researchers from the Palo Alto VA Healthcare System, Stanford University and Germany focused on 7,347 male veterans, median age 59, from the Veterans Exercise Testing Study cohort. The study team objectively measured physical fitness by maximal exercise testing, while abstracting information about the onset of Parkinson’s disease from the VA computerized patient records system.

After a mean follow-up of about 12 years, researchers found that 1.3% of the group had developed Parkinson’s disease, for an incidence of 86 cases per 100,000 person-years.

Researchers determined that the strongest multivariate factors associated with incidence of Parkinson’s disease were higher age (hazard ratio: 1.067, 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.043–1.093, p < .001), current smoking (hazard ratio: 0.511, 95% CI: 0.274–0.953, p = .035) and physical fitness (high vs. low: hazard ratio: 0.239, 95% CI: 0.079–0.725, p = .011).

In addition, compared with patients with no or only one of these risk factors, patients with two risk factors were found to have a 3.7-fold (p < .001) increased risk for incidence of Parkinson’s disease; those with all three risk factors had a 7.8-fold (p < .001) higher risk.

“High physical fitness, current smoking and younger age were associated with a lower incidence of Parkinson’s disease,” study authors concluded. “These findings parallel those of several epidemiological studies focusing on physical activity and the onset of Parkinson’s disease. Together, these observations provide strong support for recommending physical activity to diminish risk of Parkinson’s disease.”

1. Müller J, Myers J. Association between physical fitness, cardiovascular risk factors, and Parkinson’s disease. Eur J Prev Cardiol. 2018 Sep;25(13):1409-1415. doi: 10.1177/2047487318771168. Epub 2018 Apr 18. PubMed PMID: 29667433.