Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Fitness & Exercise

Font Size

No Link Between Athleticism and ALS

New Research Disputes Link Between Physical Activity and Lou Gehrig's Disease

WebMD Health News

Jan. 25, 2005 -- Despite the famous link between ALSALS and baseball great Lou Gehrig, a new study shows that there's no medical link between the disease and physical activity.

Researchers found no association between increased physical activity and the risk of developing ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). Those results contradict several previous studies that have shown that slim, athletic individuals may be more likely to develop ALS.

ALS is also sometimes called "Lou Gehrig's disease," after the famous baseball player whose career was cut short by the disease, which gradually erodes muscle strength. Although ALS is often very disabling, many people live for years with the disease. The average life expectancy is only two to five years.

ALS and Physical Activity

In the study, researchers compared the amount of physical activity reported by 219 people with ALS with 254 healthy people.

All of the participants were asked whether they engaged in sports as youngsters or as an adult or whether they performed extreme physical activity. They reported total physical activity levels as well as activity levels in three different phases of their lives: before age 25, the last 10 years before symptoms of the disease emerged, and one year before the start of the disease.

"The results showed that there were no significant association between risk of developing ALS and increased occupational or leisure time physical activity," says researcher L.H. van den Berg, MD, PhD, of the Rudolf Magnus Institute of Neuroscience in Utrecht, the Netherlands, in a news release.

"However we did find evidence to suggest that in those at risk of developing ALS for reasons other than physical activity, a higher level of activity could accelerate the onset of the disease; although other exposures during physical activity might also explain the association with early onset ALS," says van den Berg.

The study showed that in people who reported high levels of physical activity in their leisure time before age 25, the disease began seven years earlier. Among those who reported high levels of leisure-time physical activity during the 10 years before the start of the disease, the onset of the disease was three years earlier.

ALS is a disease that affects the nerves that control muscles, and researchers say increased physical activity may cause more free radical damage to these cells and cause them to die.

But they say other risk factors that a person is exposed to during leisure-time physical activities might also explain the association with ALS starting at younger ages in people with high levels of leisure-time physical activity.

Healthy Living Tools

Ditch Those Inches

Set goals, tally calorie intake, track workouts and more, all via WebMD’s free Food & Fitness Planner.

Get Started

Today on WebMD

Wet feet on shower floor tile
Flat Abs
Build a Better Butt Slideshow
woman using ice pack

man exercising
7 most effective exercises
Man looking at watch before workout
Overweight man sitting on park bench
6-Week Challenges
Want to know more?
Chill Out and Charge Up Challenge – How to help your tribe de-stress and energize.
Spark Change Challenge - Ready for a healthy change? Get some major motivation.
I have read and agreed to WebMD's Privacy Policy.
Enter cell phone number
- -
Entering your cell phone number and pressing submit indicates you agree to receive text messages from WebMD related to this challenge. WebMD is utilizing a 3rd party vendor, CellTrust, to provide the messages. You can opt out at any time.
Standard text rates apply

pilates instructor
jogger running among flowering plants
woman walking
Taylor Lautner