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Exercise May Slash Men’s Epilepsy Risk

Update Date: Sep 04, 2013 04:47 PM EDT

Vigorous exercise in early adulthood may help prevent the development of epilepsy later in life for men, according to a new study.

Epilepsy is a chronic neurological disorder characterized by recurrent and unprovoked seizures over time.

"There are a host of ways exercise has been shown to benefit the brain and reduce the risk of brain diseases," study author Dr. Elinor Ben-Menachem, with the University of Gothenburg in Sweden and an associate member of the American Academy of Neurology, said in a news release. "This is the first study in humans to show that exercise may also reduce the risk of epilepsy, which can be disabling and life-threatening."

The latest study included data from 1.17 Swedish men who were given cycle tests that measured cardiovascular fitness when they enlisted for mandatory military service at age 18.  The participants were then monitored for an average of 25 years. A total of 6,796 men developed epilepsy during follow-up.

The findings revealed that men who were very active as young adults were 79 percent less likely to develop epilepsy than those with low fitness levels, and 36 percent less likely to develop epilepsy than those with medium fitness levels.

Researchers said that 0.48 percent of men with high fitness levels developed epilepsy compared to 0.62 percent of men with medium fitness levels and 1.09 percent of men with low fitness levels.

The risk was slightly reduced after researchers accounted for genetic factors and a prior history of traumatic brain injury, stroke or diabetes.

"Exercise may affect epilepsy risk in two ways. It may protect the brain and create stronger brain reserve, or it may simply be that people who are fit early in life tend to also be fit later in life, which in turn affects disease risk," Ben-Menachem said.

The findings are published in the journal Neurology.

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