Life Course of Physical Activity and Risk and Prognosis of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis in a German ALS Registry

Background and Objectives

Whether physical activity (PA) is a risk factor for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is controversial because data on lifelong PA are rare. The main objective of this study is to provide insight into PA as a potential risk factor for ALS, reporting data on cumulative PA, leisure-time PA, and occupational PA. This study also aims to gather evidence on the role of PA as a prognostic factor in disease course.


Lifetime PA values collected by questionnaires addressing work and leisure time were quantified into metabolic equivalents (METs). A population-based case-control study embedded in the ALS Registry Swabia served to calculate the odds ratio (OR) of ALS by PA in different time intervals and prognosis.


In ALS cases (393 cases, 791 age- and sex-matched controls), we observed reduced total PA at interview and up to 5 years before interview compared to controls. Total PA was not associated with ALS risk 5 to 55 years before interview. Heavy occupational work intensity was associated with increased ALS risk (OR 1.97, 95% confidence interval 1.34, 2.89). Total PA levels were associated with survival in a nonlinear manner: inactive patients and highest activity levels (25 MET-h/wk) revealed the worst survival time of 15.4 and 19.3 months, respectively. Best median survival with 29.8 months was seen at 10.5 MET-h/wk after adjustment for other prognostic factors.


Lifetime combined PA decreased sharply several years before disease onset compared to controls. The risk of developing ALS was not associated with former total PA levels 5 to 55 years before interview in contrast to occupational PA, probably reflecting work-associated exposures. We found a strong nonlinear association of current and prediagnostic PA level and survival in ALS cases with the best survival with moderate PA. PA intensity may be a disease-modifying factor with an unfavorable outcome in sedentary and hyperactive behavior.

Classification of Evidence

This study provides Class III evidence that PA was not associated with the development of ALS.

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