A recent research study focused on whether regular exercise can benefit children with multiple sclerosis (MS). The article appeared in the August 12, 2015, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
MS is characterized by inflammation, which manifests as an immune attack on the nervous system’s own myelin, a fatty substance that wraps around nerve cells and helps them conduct impulses. When myelin is damaged, problems with movement, vision, sensation and pain can result. MS can also be characterized by fatigue, memory problems and depression.
“Up to three-quarters of children with MS experience depression, tiredness, or memory and thinking impairment,” according to study author E. Ann Yeh, MD, with The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto, Associate Professor at the University of Toronto in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. “Our research is important since little is known regarding how lifestyle behaviors may affect the disease.”
The investigators examined a total of 31 children with MS and an additional 79 with a condition called monophasic acquired demyelinating syndrome (mono-ADS), which is measured by a single instance of neurological inflammation. The children filled out questionnaires relating to tiredness, depression and the frequency with which they exercised. Of all the kids in the study, 60 were also given magnetic resonance (MRI) brain scans to look at whether signs of MS (lesions) could be detected in the brain.
Forty-five percent of children in the study regularly performed strenuous exercise, versus 85% of children who had mono-ADS. The kids with MS who regularly exercised had a lower overall amount of brain lesions typical of MS, known as T2 lesions. Kids who exercised also had fewer MS relapses. When compared to kids with mono-ADS, children with MS had more tiredness and depression.
“These findings add to the possibility that physical activity may have a beneficial effect on the health of the brain,” said Yeh.
Yeh further noted, however, that the study did not demonstrate a direct connection between exercise and MS, since there may have been other characteristics among the children who exercised regularly that contributed to better MS outcomes (such as a more healthy lifestyle overall). Still, the study’s findings are promising and additional studies may further investigate the direct effects of exercise on MS in children.
In their study report, the researchers concluded that “Children with MS are less physically active than children with mono-ADS. Reasons for this are unclear, but may be related to ongoing disease activity, perceived limitations, or symptoms such as depression or fatigue. Children with MS reporting higher levels of strenuous PA had lower T2 lesion volumes and lower relapse rates, suggesting a potential protective effect of strenuous PA in this population. Further longitudinal studies are needed to establish the relationship of PA to MS symptoms and disease activity in this population.”