10 Things You Need to Know About MS and Exercise

Tracy Davenport, Ph.D. | May 18th 2016 Jun 1st 2017

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There is mounting evidence that shows numerous benefits of exercise for people with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Here are 10 things researchers and patients need to know to help people with MS become more active (Motl et al., 2015).

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Physical activity may improve the condition.

There is evidence that suggests those with MS may function better with exercise but an understanding of how it actually changes the disease is still limited.

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The benefits of physical activity among people with MS range from cardiovascular to feelings of well-being.

Preliminary research suggests exercise benefits include improved muscle strength, aerobic capacity, walking performance, better quality of life and lower rates of depression (Motl & Pllutti, 2012). The early findings are promising but more research is needed.

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It’s yet to be determined the ideal amount of exercise.

Levels of disability vary greatly in people living with MS. Further study is needed to pinpoint the correct frequency, time, intensity and type of exercise for each level of disability.

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For people with MS, there are risks to exercising if you’re not careful.

MS can cause muscle weaknesses and balance problems. Understanding how these issues compromise safety during exercise is a question that needs to be answered.

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It’s unclear which kind of MS patients would benefit most from exercise.

More research is needed regarding whether exercise can benefit people with severe disability or aggressive courses of MS.

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People with MS are not exercising enough.

Only a small percentage of people with MS are meeting the recommended levels of physical activity necessary to see the health benefits (Klaren, et al., 2013). It’s important to figure out why someone with MS chooses to be physically active or not.

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There are various strategies for getting people with MS to exercise more.

Some small-scale studies have looked at different ways to try to get people with MS to be more physically active. These approaches include the internet, newsletters, and DVDs. Larger studies are needed, however.

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The challenge is translating lab research into clinical practice.

Much of the research on physical activity in individuals with MS has been done in research labs with trained staff. The next challenge is to figure out how to get this information and other methods for improving physical activity to healthcare providers and those living with MS.

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Sedentary behavior may worsen MS.

People with MS are less physically active than those who don’t have the condition (Motl et al., 2005). Decreased mobility may make those with MS more sedentary and in turn worsen their condition. It is important for researchers to understand what leads to sedentary behavior.

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There isn’t an optimal way to measure physical activity in people with MS.

Some of the ways in which exercise is measured, such as step counters and heart rate monitors, may not work for those with MS. Finding common ways to measure exercise would be helpful.