Exercise Fights Fatigue and Depression in MS Patients, Study Reveals

Joana Carvalho, PhD avatar

by Joana Carvalho, PhD |

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Physical exercise fights fatigue and depression in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS), a new study reveals.

Remarkably, these positive outcomes in psychological health can be achieved without significant alterations in the patient’s body weight or body mass index (BMI), further supporting the idea that exercise could be an effective therapeutic intervention for MS.

The study with these findings, “Effect of Short-Term Interval Exercise Training on Fatigue, Depression, and Fitness in Normal Weight vs. Overweight Person With Multiple Sclerosis,” was published in EXPLORE: The Journal of Science and Healing.

MS patients usually are advised to maintain a healthy diet, as diet and body weight can interfere with their energy levels, body functions, and disease progression.

Indeed, excessive body weight is considered one of the risk factors that can contribute to worsening MS symptoms and the disease’s comorbidities, including depression and fatigue.

It also is known that in healthy individuals body weight can hinder the positive effects of exercise on depression and fatigue. However, its effects on MS patients are less clear.

In the study, researchers set out to analyze the effects of exercise on fatigue and depression experienced by overweight and normal body weight individuals diagnosed with MS.

The randomized, blinded, controlled trial enrolled 66 patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) — 33 overweight and 33 with normal body weight — who were assigned randomly to undergo a pre-defined exercise plan involving upper- and lower-limb cycling, three days a week for eight weeks, or no exercise (control condition).

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Multiple parameters, including fatigue, depression, Timed Up and Go test (TUG, a mobility test), aerobic capacity (training intensity), weight and BMI were measured before and after the eight-week exercise intervention.

Results showed there were no significant correlations between patient’s weight and any of the parameters analyzed. However, fatigue, depression, aerobic capacity and TUG were highly correlated with exercise.

In addition, the group of patients engaged in exercise experienced a significant improvement in all psychological parameters analyzed, regardless of their initial weight and/or BMI, in comparison with the non-exercising control group.

Altogether, the findings suggest that exercise improves patient’s overall fitness and psychological health, even in the absence of significant alterations in body weight, thereby supporting the use of physical activity as a therapeutic intervention to minimize depression and fatigue in MS.

“The results from this study confirm that exercise is an effective therapeutic intervention for improving fatigue, depression and functional parameters, independent of initial weight status, in persons with MS,” the team concluded.

The researchers, however, emphasized that the small sample size, the study’s short duration, and the lack of long-term patient follow-up are limitations that should be taken into account when interpreting their findings, and should be addressed in future studies.

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