Motor neurone disease linked to 'vigorous exercise': UK study

play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
SOUTH AFRICA - UNDATED: Joost van der Westhuizen of the Springboks playing rugby in South Africa (Photo by Wessel Oosthuizen/Gallo Images)
SOUTH AFRICA - UNDATED: Joost van der Westhuizen of the Springboks playing rugby in South Africa (Photo by Wessel Oosthuizen/Gallo Images)
Wessel Oosthuizen

Frequent strenuous exercise increases the risk of developing motor neurone disease for those genetically predisposed to the illness, according to research published on Friday.

The findings, published in the journal EBioMedicine, "show a causal relationship between exercise and MND, with high-intensity physical activity likely to contribute to motor neurone injury, but only in individuals with a predisposing genetic profile," said the study by a team at the University of Sheffield.

High-profile sportsmen to have developed MND include Scotland rugby union international Doddie Weir, footballer Stephen Darby and late South African rugby World Cup winner Joost van der Westhuizen.

"We have suspected for some time that exercise was a risk factor for MND, but until now this link was considered controversial," said Johnathan Cooper-Knock of the University of Sheffield.

"This study confirms that in some people, frequent strenuous exercise leads to an increase in the risk of MND.

"It is important to stress that we know that most people who undertake vigorous exercise do not develop MND.

"The next step is to identify which individuals specifically are at risk of MND if they exercise frequently and intensively, and how much exercise increases that risk," he added.

The neurodegenerative condition, which affects around 5 000 people in Britain, hinders messages sent from the brain to muscles in the body, causing them to waste away.

Around 10 percent of cases are inherited, "but the remaining 90 percent are caused by complex genetic and environmental interactions which are not well-understood," said the British university.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Would you be keen to see the Springboks join the Six Nations?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Yes! The Northern Hemisphere is the future.
53% - 5949 votes
No! The Rugby Championship is still the pinnacle.
47% - 5214 votes