Early Exercise Prevents Later Epilepsy

early exercise

Young people who exercise end up with strong muscles and bones, decreased likelihood of obesity, lower blood pressure, reduced possibility of getting type 2 diabetes, and better sleep.

Adding to these benefits, a new Swedish study found that engaging in regular, vigorous exercise as a young person, may reduce your chance of developing epilepsy when you get older. Over 1.17 million Swedish men, all of whom completed cardiovascular fitness tests upon enlisting for the military at 18 years of age, were included in the study.

The age of the men varied greatly, as they were born between the years of 1950 and 1987. Just under 6,800 men received an epilepsy diagnosis over the course of the 40-year study, according to researchers.

Major Benefits for the Fittest Individuals

Differences in epilepsy risk were extremely pronounced depending on the fitness levels of the men included in the study. As compared to the least-fit men, the men with the highest fitness levels were found to be about 80% less at risk for epilepsy. The fittest men were also about 35% less at risk for epilepsy than those with moderate fitness levels.

According to University of Gothenburg epilepsy and neurology professor Dr. Elinor Ben-Menachem, one of the lead researchers behind the study, described the findings as more evidence of the strong links between physical fitness and mental cognition. She said that 18-year-olds with high levels of physical fitness have been training their bodies at the same time that their brains are developing, a period that can largely determine brain health for many years to come.

All About Epilepsy

The term “epilepsy” actually refers to a group of conditions, all of which involve repeated and often unpredictable seizures. About 2.3 million adults, as well as 470,000 children, suffer from epilepsy according to statistics from the CDC, or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 150,000 individuals in the U.S. are diagnosed with a form of epilepsy each year.

Some of the risk factors for epilepsy are preventable, while others are not. Children who are properly vaccinated early in life are less likely to develop epilepsy, as are children born to mothers who exercised proper prenatal care.

Traumatic physical injuries to the brain can also lead to epilepsy, so those who engage in rough physical sports and who’ve been involved in falls and car accidents may be at higher risk as well. However, epilepsy often doesn’t present itself right away. An individual who falls off a swing and hits her head as a young child may develop epilepsy much later in life as an adult, according to Dr. Ben-Menachemsaid.

Although the researchers behind the study aren’t sure of the reason behind the link, they said the findings suggest that exercise early in life may prevent these types of brain injuries from leading to epilepsy later in life.

More About the Study

In order to test the physical fitness of the men upon their enlistment in the military, the men were asked to ride stationary bicycles as long as they could, with resistance gradually increasing throughout the exercise. Even the men with the lowest physical fitness scores, which ranged from 1 to 9, were still declared sufficiently healthy for enlistment.

Approximately 0.48% of men with the highest fitness levels developed epilepsy later in life, while the same was true of approximately 0.62% of men with medium fitness levels and 1.09% of men with the lowest fitness levels. The results held even when the researchers accounted for factors like genetics, strokes, diabetes and previous brain injuries.

The researchers also pointed to previous studies that found mental benefits from physical exercise. These studies have shown that engaging in regular physical activity can improve memory and neuron generation, and prevent the onset of mental conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and depression.

The Bottom Line

Getting plenty of exercise early in life and staying in good physical shape will greatly reduce your risk of developing epilepsy and other brain disorders later in life, according to a new Swedish study.

The full text of the study can be found online in the medical journal Neurology.

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