Treadmill training may help 'manage the effects' of MS

Canada has one of the highest rates of multiple sclerosis in the world, with one in 400, or over 900,000 people, living with the disease.

Dave Yasvinski 3 minute read December 7, 2021
Sport fitness app for running workout with treadmill

Researchers are hoping to focus more on exercise in their MS studies. GETTY

Teaching multiple sclerosis patients to perform walking exercises on a treadmill may be an effective way to manage the cognitive consequences of the disease, new research has found.

MS patients included in the small pilot study, detailed in the journal Contemporary Clinical Trials, exhibited improvements in verbal learning and memory and demonstrated preservation of hippocampal volume — an area of the brain that can experience atrophy during the early stages of the disease.

“This study is an important first step in the development of an intervention targeted at the specific cognitive domains affected by MS,” said Brian Sandroff, lead author and the senior research scientist in the Center for Neuropsychology and Neuroscience Research at Kessler Foundation.

The single-blind, randomized control trial included 11 patients with relapse-remitting MS, all of whom exhibited pre-existing impairments to new learning related to the disease — a key component to the design of the study. Patients were divided into two categories: an intervention group that was given three months of supervised treadmill walking exercise and a control group that was instructed to perform three months of low-intensity resistive exercise. All patients were subjected to a series of learning and memory tests — and hippocampal neuroimaging — before and after the study.

In addition to improvements in verbal learning and memory and preservation of hippocampal volume, the intervention group experienced non-significant effects to functional connectivity, all of which researchers said provide proof-of-concept for the therapy becoming standard practice among patients.

“Exercise interventions should be a focus for MS research,” said John DeLuca, co-author of the study and senior vice president for research and training at Kessler Foundation. “Showing efficacy for low-cost, non-invasive, widely available interventions will help us manage the effects of MS, supporting individuals striving to maintain their participation at home, at work and in their communities.

“To pursue our findings, larger scale studies are needed to explore the relationships between exercise training and functional and structural changes in the brain and the optimal protocols for clinical implementation.”

Canada has one of the highest rates of multiple sclerosis in the world, with one in 400 — or over 900,000 people — living with the disease, according to the MS Society. There are roughly 2.8 million people suffering from MS globally, with prevalence having increased in every area of the world since 2013. The unpredictable disease causes the immune system to attack the body’s myelin — the layer of insulation protecting nerves — causing inflammation and disrupting nerve impulses throughout the central nervous system. Depending on the area of attack, this disruption can lead to a wide range of symptoms, including cognitive difficulties and diminished, vision, balance and mobility.

Depression is one of the most common symptoms of multiple sclerosis, with previous research suggesting the lifetime prevalence of the mood disorder to be as high as 50 per cent in MS patients. Untreated, depression can decrease quality of life and exacerbate other symptoms, including fatigue, pain and cognitive changes.

Dave Yasvinski is a writer

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