The importance of exercise has been emphasized in recent years, as researchers find more and more evidence that physical activity helps to prevent illness and improve general health. These benefits appear to extend to psoriasis, a recent study reported, finding that vigorous activity reduced a woman’s risk of developing psoriasis by as much as 30 percentt.
The study, “The Association Between Physical Activity and the Risk of Incident Psoriasis,” published online in the journal Archives of Dermatology, was conducted by scientists at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and led by Abrar Quershi, an assistant professor of dermatology at Harvard.
Qureshi began his training when psoriasis was only thought of as a skin condition. Since then, the scientific community’s understanding has evolved and now psoriasis is considered to be an autoimmune disease characterized by systemic inflammation, causing the body to accelerate the growth and turnover of skin cells.
Used data from the long-term Nurses’ Health Study II, which began in 1976 and continues through regular follow-ups with participants, the team identified 86,655 women, between ages 27 and 44 when they started in the study in 1991. Of them, 1,026 of them developed psoriasis during the study period.
The women were surveyed as to health and exercise patterns, weight, diet, alcohol consumption and smoking habits in an initial questionnaire in 1991, and again in follow-up surveys in 1997 and 2001.
Respondents were then placed into five groups by activity level, and in those with the highest activity levels, but only there, was a significantly lower risk of psoriasis found. Women who vigorously exercised each week had a 25 percent to 30 percent lower chance of developing the disease compared to those who exercise least, the data showed.
Researchers suggested that some type of threshold effect was at work, with the benefits of exercise unseen at lower levels. No protective benefit was found in regular walking or moderate jogging.
For visible benefit, the researchers said 105 minutes of active running or 180 minutes of equally vigorous exercise, like swimming or playing tennis, each week was necessary. The intensity of the exercise is relevant, they added, and running was defined as a pace faster than 10 minutes per mile in the study.
These results align with others regarding the positive effects of exercise on diseases marked by systemic inflammation, including type 2 diabetes, coronary artery disease, and with certain types of cancer.
“[Psoriasis] is a systemic inflammatory condition. If exercise changes inflammatory biomarkers, it makes sense,” Qureshi said in the press release. “This might be another good reason to adapt a physically active lifestyle.”
Qureshi and his team plan to continue to study the protective effects of exercise on psoriasis, adding men and young adults to their data to see if similar effects might be found.