No, Exercise Can Not Give You A.L.S.!

Believe it or not, some people think exercise can harm you.

Maybe that's because many of the people we know who have or have had this dreaded disease were in sports, like Lou Gehrig, who died in his early 30's of it and hence, became its namesake.

But according to Gretchen Reynolds at The New York Times, exercise can not cause A.L.S., though there's long been "a scientific debate about whether participating in contact sports or even vigorous exercise might somehow contribute to the development of the fatal neurodegenerative disease, an issue that two important new studies attempt to answer."

The answer, right up top, is no, though there might be reasons to think so.  In the past decade, several widely publicized studies indicated that professional Italian soccer players were disproportionately prone to A.L.S., with about a sixfold higher incidence than would have been expected numerically. Players were often diagnosed while in their 30s; the normal onset is after 60, she writes.

But researchers did find "weak but measurable associations between playing contact sports and a heightened risk for A.L.S.," she notes.  The data even showed links between being physically active — meaning exercising regularly — and contracting the disease, raising concerns among scientists that exercise might somehow be inducing A.L.S. in susceptible people, perhaps by affecting brain neurons or increasing bodily stress.

She cautions that the studies were small and had problems with their methods.  

In the new study, which involved almost two dozen researchers from five nations, 652 A.L.S. patients were asked if they’d be willing to talk about their lives and activities, as were 1,166 people of matching ages, genders and nationalities. Extensive in-person interviews were conducted with each volunteer, asking them how active they had been in professional or amateur sports, at their jobs and during leisure time. They also asked about past histories of injuries and accidents, including concussions and other head trauma but also other injuries.

They then compared answers from the people with A.L.S. to those of healthier people.
The numbers showed that physical activity — whether at work, in sports or during exercise — did not increase people’s risk of developing A.L.S., Reynolds reports. Instead, exercise actually appeared to offer some protection against the disease. Even pro athletes showed no heightened risk, although they represented such a tiny subset of the patients with A.L.S. that firm conclusions cannot be drawn, the researchers say.
One aspect of people’s lives did significantly increase their risk of developing A.L.S.: a history of multiple hits to the head. Men and women who had sustained at least two concussions or other serious head injuries were much more likely than other people, including never-concussed athletes, to develop A.L.S.
So keep on exercising, and just watch those high pitches!


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