Why To Exercise Today: Run, Don't Walk, Away From Psoriasis

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A 19th-century photographic illustration of hands with psoriasis (Wikimedia Commons)
A 19th-century photographic illustration of hands with psoriasis (Wikimedia Commons)

Remember the old ad campaign that bemoaned "The heartbreak of psoriasis"? A new study from Brigham and Women's Hospital offers some encouraging news for keeping hearts — and skin — unbroken: Exercise appears to significantly reduce the risk of psoriasis, at least in women. But here's the catch: The exercise has to be vigorous. You can't walk away from psoriasis; you have to run.

From the press release:

CHICAGO – A study of U.S. women suggests that vigorous physical activity may be associated with a reduced risk of psoriasis, according to a report published Online First by Archives of Dermatology, a JAMA Network publication.

Psoriasis is an immunologic disorder characterized by systemic inflammation and scaling of the skin. Physical activity has been associated with a decreased risk of disorders characterized by systemic inflammation, including type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, coronary artery disease and breast cancer, according to the study background.

“Our results suggest that participation in at least 20.9 MET (metabolic equivalent task)-hours per week of vigorous exercise, the equivalent of 105 minutes of running or 180 minutes of swimming or playing tennis, is associated with a 25 percent to 30 percent reduced risk of psoriasis compared with not participating in any vigorous exercise,” the authors note.

Hillary C. Frankel, A.B., of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, and colleagues used data from the Nurses’ Health Study II. Their analysis included 86,665 women who did not have psoriasis at baseline in 1991 and who completed physical activity questionnaires in 1991, 1997 and 2001. Researchers documented 1,026 incident cases of psoriasis as they examined the association between physical activity and the disorder.

The most physically active women had a lower multivariate relative risk of psoriasis (0.72) compared with the least active. Walking was not associated with a reduced risk of psoriasis, according to study results.

“Among the individual vigorous activities we evaluated, only running and performing aerobic exercise or calisthenics were associated with a reduced risk of psoriasis. Other vigorous activities, including jogging, playing tennis, swimming and bicycling were not associated with psoriasis risk,” the authors note. “The highly variable intensity at which these activities are performed may account for this finding.”

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the dermatology department at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

This program aired on May 22, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

Carey Goldberg Twitter Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.