Background Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a rare neurodegenerative disorder mainly characterised by motor symptoms. Extensive physical activity has been implicated in the aetiology of ALS. Differences in anthropometrics, physical fitness and isometric strength measured at 18–19 years were assessed to determine if they are associated with subsequent death in ALS.
Method Data on body weight and height, physical fitness, resting heart rate and isometric strength measured at conscription were linked with data on death certificates in men born in 1951–1965 in Sweden (n=809 789). Physical fitness was assessed as a maximal test on an electrically braked bicycle ergometer. Muscle strength was measured as the maximal isometric strength in handgrip, elbow flexion and knee extension in standardised positions, using a dynamometer. Analyses were based on 684 459 (84.5%) men because of missing data. A matched case control study within this sample was performed. The population was followed until 31 December 2006, and 85 men died from ALS during this period.
Results Weight adjusted physical fitness (W/kg), but not physical fitness per se, was a risk factor for ALS (OR 1.98, 95% CI 1.32 to 2.97), whereas resting pulse rate, muscle strength and other variables were not.
Conclusions Physical fitness, but not muscle strength, is a risk factor for death at early age in ALS. This may indicate that a common factor underlies both fitness (W/kg) and risk of ALS.
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