Women engaging in regular exercise such as cycling, walking, gardening, cleaning, and participating in sports may have about 25 percent lower risk of developing Parkinson‘s disease, suggests a study.

The study, published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, does not prove that exercise lowers the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. It only shows an association.

“Exercise is a low-cost way to improve health overall, so our study sought to determine if it may be linked to a lower risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, a debilitating disease that has no cure,” said study author Alexis Elbaz, of the Inserm Research Center in Paris, France.

“Our results provide evidence for planning interventions to prevent Parkinson’s disease,” Elbaz said.

The study included 95,354 female participants, with an average age of 49, who did not have Parkinson’s at the start of the study. Researchers followed participants for three decades during which 1,074 participants developed Parkinson’s.

Over the course of the study, participants completed up to six questionnaires about the types and amounts of physical activity they were getting.

They were asked how far they walked and how many flights of stairs they climbed daily, how many hours they spent on household activities as well as how much time they spent doing moderate recreational activities such as gardening and more vigorous activities such as sports.

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Among the participants in the highest exercise group, there were 246 cases of Parkinson’s disease or 0.55 cases per 1,000 person-years compared to 286 cases or 0.73 per 1,000 person-years among participants in the lowest exercise group. Person years represent both the number of people in the study and the amount of time each person spends in the study.

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After adjusting for factors such as place of residence, age of first period and menopausal status, and smoking, researchers found those in the highest exercise group had a 25 percent lower rate of developing Parkinson’s disease than those in the lowest exercise group when physical activity was assessed up to 10 years before diagnosis; the association remained when physical activity was assessed up to 15 or 20 years before diagnosis.

Results were similar after adjusting for diet or medical conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Researchers also found that 10 years before diagnosis, physical activity declined at a faster rate in those with Parkinson’s disease than in those without, likely due to early symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

A limitation of the study was that participants were mostly health-conscious educators who volunteered to participate in a long-term study, so the results may be different for the general population.