Can exercising more when you’re young reduce your risk of developing epilepsy? According to a new Swedish study, lower levels of cardiovascular fitness early in life are associated with a higher risk of epilepsy in adulthood. Published in the Sept. 4 online edition of Neurology, the paper by Jenny Nyberg, PhD, of Stockholm University, and colleagues examined cardiovascular fitness levels and epilepsy prevalence in Swedish men (born between 1950 and 1987) who were enlisted for mandatory military service at age 18, and then followed for 40 years.
The population-based cohort study included 1,173,079 Swedish males. During the conscription exams, data on cardiovascular fitness were collected and then linked with hospital registers to calculate the men’s later risk of epilepsy. The investigators accounted for familial and other potential confounders. Dr. Nyberg and colleagues used the cycle ergometer test to assess cardiovascular fitness (scored from 1 to 9, where 1 is the lowest). During the follow-up period, 6,796 individuals developed epilepsy.
The investigators reported that low and medium cardiovascular fitness (compared with high) at age 18 years was associated with increased risk of future epilepsy (hazard ratio 1.79, 95% confidence interval 1.57–2.03; and hazard ratio 1.36, 95% confidence interval 1.27–1.45, respectively). This significant association remained even after adjusting for familial factors, brain injury, diabetes, and cerebrovascular disease.
The data, the authors concluded, suggest a significant association between early-life cardiovascular fitness and later development of epilepsy, which has previously been shown in animal models. “These findings may have wide implications not only for preventive health care but also as a strategy to delay the progression of epileptogenesis,” Dr. Nyberg and colleagues noted.
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