Multiple Sclerosis Patients Show Real Gains from Group Exercise Program

Patricia Silva, PhD avatar

by Patricia Silva, PhD |

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Results from a recent study published in the journal Rehabilitation Research and Practice showed the positive effects of community exercise programs in multiple sclerosis (MS) patients. Study participants showed physical improvements like higher energy levels and reduced fatigue, psychological benefits from those improvements and from group support and motivation, and a better understanding of the role of exercise.

MS results form an abnormal response of the body’s immune system directed against the central nervous system (CNS), which is composed of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves, that can cause a multitude of sensory, motor, visual, psychological and other symptoms. Qualitative studies can be a useful technique to explore the benefits of exercise programs from the participants’ perspective.

In the study entitled Perceptions of Participants in a Group, Community, Exercise Programme for People with Multiple Sclerosis,” Rosemary Clarke and Susan Coote from the Department of Clinical Therapies, University of Limerick, Ireland, explored the perceptions of MS participants in a 10-week community-based exercise program. The team designed a pragmatic program evaluation and used a three focus group approach to gather data from the 14 participants, all of whom could walk outside with the aid of no more than a stick. Group A comprised 5 individuals who had completed the personal trainer intervention three months prior to participation, group B comprised 6 individuals who had concluded a fitness instructor-led program, and group C included 3 subjects who had completed the personal trainer intervention four months prior to participating in the focus group.

The results of a qualitative analysis of the exercise program revealed that focus groups may play a crucial role in the psychological gains obtained and also aid in motivation. Physical improvements that translate to domestic life and a reduction in fatigue were also reported. Furthermore, researchers found that education and supervision are important, as participants reported that increased knowledge led to a shift from fearing that exercise might be harmful to appreciating its benefits.

According to the team, “The findings of the qualitative study suggest that participants in a group exercise programme perceive significant benefits. The group environment was deemed a vital component of the programme and had important implications for adherence and motivation especially once the programme reached its conclusion.”

The researchers added: “The qualitative evaluation reinforces the findings from the quantitative study and brings to the table new information on the positive effect of group exercise on fatigue. This qualitative data also demonstrates how physical improvements translate to domestic life for people with minimal disability due to MS. This study highlights some of the exercise issues that are pertinent to MS patients and should help inform clinicians when designing a group exercise programme that has transferability to the home environment.”

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