A recently published study in the journal Neurology entitled “lower physical activity is associated with higher disease burden in pediatric multiple sclerosis” suggests pediatric patients with multiple sclerosis can benefit from engaging in regular moderate to strenuous activity, in that physical activity was linked to a noticeable reduction in fatigue, lesions, and relapse rates.
The study examined 31 pediatric patients with MS. Those who reported having regular moderate physical activity, as determined by the Godin Leisure-Time Exercise Questionnaire (GLTEQ), were observed to have less sleep/rest and general fatigue symptoms. The researchers found the opposite to also be true, with those scoring higher on the PedsQL Multidimensional Fatigue Scale reporting lower levels of moderate physical activity.
Thirteen patients had magnetic resonance imaging data available, all of which exhibited a notable relationship between more intense physical activity and lower T2 lesion volumes and yearly relapse rates. Specifically, the average lesion volume was 0.46 cm3 for six of the study’s participants who engaged in strenuous activity, while the seven who did not engage in strenuous exercise had much higher lesion volumes of 3.40 cm3. As for annual relapse rates, those who engaged in physical activity had a median rate of 0.5 per year, and those who were less active had a rate of 1.0 per year.
According to co-author E. Ann Yeah, the study’s findings suggest “a potential protective effect of strenuous [physical activity] in this population.” The team also pointed out that compared to patients with monophasic acquired demyelinating syndrome (mono-ADS), MS patients reported much lower physical activity, at 0.0 compared to 27.0 metabolic equivalents, and 40.0 versus 54.0 metabolic equivalents. Less than half of MS patients reported having any strenuous physical activity, compared to the 82.3% of mono-ADS patients that said they had physical activity.
The authors of the study explained that while this difference between MS and mono-ADS patients has yet to be fully understood, it could be related to “ongoing disease activity, perceived limitations, or symptoms such as depression or fatigue”. They also observed MS patients were more likely to report fatigue and depression, compared to mono-ADS patients. “These future interventions have the potential to improve quality of life by attenuating symptoms such as depression and fatigue and potentially reducing the rate of disease progression.”