Sitting Less, Walking More May Be Feasible Way to Healthier Life with MS, Study Suggests

Marisa Wexler, MS avatar

by Marisa Wexler, MS |

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exercise and MS

Small changes in daily activities, like sitting less and walking more, may be healthful for people with multiple sclerosis (MS) without the challenges of formal exercise.

A new study, “Management of multiple sclerosis symptoms through reductions in sedentary behaviour: protocol for a feasibility study,” published in BMJ Open, describes an intervention that could help encourage such activity.

Increasing physical activity can have a lot of benefits for people with MS, but being more active can be difficult, especially as ‘being more active’ is often framed as ‘working out.’ But a physically active life can also be achieved by small changes in day-to-day activities, like simply being less sedentary.

“Sometimes there’s a belief that if exercise isn’t done as a formal workout, it doesn’t count, but sitting less and moving more, taking more steps or standing more is much more feasible as an easier place to start,” Patricia Manns, PhD, a professor at the University of Alberta who co-authored the study, said in a news story.

This study outlines a 15-week intervention called “Sit Less with MS,” proposed as a way to encourage MS patients to get more activity each day.

People taking part receive a newsletter with pertinent information. They also have weekly coaching sessions with a physical therapist via phone or video call, with each session lasting no longer than half an hour.

The intervention is broadly divided into two sections, the first being ‘sit less’ and the second being ‘move more.’ As their names imply, the first is meant to encourage patients to break up lengthy sitting periods, while the second tells them to move more each day, while also sitting less.

Manns said that this focus on small changes to make in daily life — rather than trying to implement a larger and more complex exercise routine — could be more feasibly implemented by people with MS. “The messaging works because it’s an easier psychological entry into these activity guidelines,” she said. “It invites them to be active at their own pace.”

The study further describes how this intervention could be tested in a clinical trial — for instance, it details what measurements should be taken to track any changes in motor performance, and suggests that a Fitbit or similar device could be used to monitor participants’ activity day-to-day.

A University of Alberta-sponsored clinical trial (NCT03136744) with this protocol is underway. While formal results have not yet been released, there is preliminary, anecdotal evidence that the intervention is well-received.

“My view of what it means to be active is completely different than it was before,” said one participant. “Before, being active meant going for a swim or going for a long walk, going to the gym, going for a workout, doing yoga. I guess I wouldn’t have thought going to the mailbox was being physically active.”

All in all, the researchers are hopeful that this intervention could improve quality of life for people with MS. “People with MS live many years managing the symptoms of MS and this new approach may play an important role in management,” they wrote.

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