With approximately 200,000 people affected, Parkinson's disease is the second most common neurodegenerative pathology in France after Alzheimer's. If it cannot be cured, it can be relieved with medication. Several studies have also highlighted the virtues of physical activity on the improvement of symptoms, thus encouraging patients to move, move and even dance despite their difficulties. A study conducted by Inserm researchers, published on May 17 in the American journal Neurology, goes a little further still: physical activity would also have a preventive effect on the appearance of symptoms.
Parkinson's disease is characterized by the alteration of neurons involved in the coordination of movements, which generates motor, cognitive and sensory disorders with a strong impact on the quality of life of patients and their relatives. We have known for a long time about the benefits of physical activity in people who are already ill, to whom physiotherapy sessions are recommended in particular, but very few studies have focused on the preventive effects of physical exercise on the onset of of the disease, even less in women than in men. From this observation, the team of Alexis Elbaz, neurologist and researcher at Inserm within the Center for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health, wanted to estimate the impact of physical activity on the development of the disease in specifically targeting women. These analyzes confirmed their expectations: more active women had a 25% lower risk of falling ill. "This is the first study of this scale to highlight this result", specifies Professor Elbaz.
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This work focused on a cohort of nearly 100,000 participants followed between 1990 and 2018. Thanks to the questionnaires completed by these women during these three decades, the researchers were able to compare the level of physical activity of the participants who were not sick with those who had developed the disease, and this more than 5, 10, 15 and 20 before the diagnosis of Parkinson's disease. They found that the women who are now ill had done less sport in their lives, but also that they walked or cycled less, that they took the stairs less and devoted little or no time to physical activities. hobbies, such as gardening, or household chores requiring a lot of effort. Interestingly, the discrepancy was particularly striking in the last 10 years before diagnosis. “We believe that the occurrence of precursor symptoms up to 10 years before diagnosis may have been responsible for a decline in physical activity. However, the long follow-up allowed us to confirm that the physical activity of these women was already lower before the appearance of these first symptoms, more than 20 years before the diagnosis. This had never been shown,” explains Alexis Elbaz.
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Thus, practicing regular physical activity as early as possible would prevent or at least delay the onset of this neurodegeneration. "There is a real public health message behind it: we already knew that physical activity has many health benefits and our results show that it would also be beneficial in curbing the development of incurable neurological diseases", underlines the neurologist.
It remains to be understood how exercise can better preserve the brain in the context of Parkinson's disease. “Several studies on this pathology, both in humans and animals, have highlighted the neuroprotective role of physical activity, in particular through a mechanism called brain plasticity. Physical activity stimulates the development of brain connections in the regions involved in motor skills, these same regions that become dysfunctional in Parkinson's patients,” explains Alexis Elbaz. According to the authors, this mechanism would explain the results obtained, although additional analyzes are necessary to confirm this link. But for the time being, other avenues of reflection are at the heart of scientific interests. In particular, the researchers would like to identify the most protective type of activity but also the intensity of exercise necessary for the effects on delaying symptoms to be significantly beneficial.