Dr Cooper-Knock, who is a senior lecturer in neurology at the university’s Neuroscience Institute, said diseases such as MND are caused by “environmental and genetic factors”.
He hopes the next step will be carrying out research to identify which individuals are genetically vulnerable to the disease and how their levels of exercise increase the risk of developing it.
He added: “About 10% of MND is inherited and 90% doesn’t run in families but has a significant genetic component.
“Hopefully we can do some good, we are trying to help people and prevent suffering.”
The Sheffield team says the aim is to help doctors to be able to offer advice to families and patients about the risks so they can make personal decisions about their exercise habits.
Dr Brian Dickie, director of research development at the Motor Neurone Disease Association, said: “In recent years, understanding of the genetics of MND has advanced, but there has been little progress in identifying the environmental and lifestyle factors that increase the risk of developing the disease.
“This is, in part, because the genetic and the environmental studies tend to be carried out in isolation by different research teams, so each is only working with part of the jigsaw.
“The power of this research from the University of Sheffield comes from bringing these pieces of the puzzle together.”
The study’s findings have been published in the journal EBioMedicine.