Physical activity may improve life quality in newly diagnosed patients

Link remained after analysis accounted for factors such as fatigue, disability

Patricia Valerio, PhD avatar

by Patricia Valerio, PhD |

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A woman strikes an upward dog yoga pose on a mat.

Engaging in physical activity may improve the quality of life for people newly diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), a study shows.

Physical activity was found to be significantly associated with the physical component of quality of life, and the link remained after accounting for other factors such as fatigue and disability status.

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“Such knowledge could guide researchers and health care providers to develop more targeted behavior change interventions for promoting [physical activity] and [quality of life] in persons newly diagnosed with MS,” researchers wrote.

The study, “Physical Activity and Quality of Life in Persons Newly Diagnosed With Multiple Sclerosis: A Cross-sectional Study,” was published in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

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MS symptoms can negatively affect quality of life

MS is characterized by a wide range of symptoms, including mobility issues, cognitive impairment, fatigue, and mood disturbance, all of which can negatively affect quality of life. Consistently, previous studies have shown a worse life quality for MS patients than the general population.

Physical activity is a lifestyle habit that can boost the quality of life in people with MS, helping to ease symptoms and some co-existing conditions, and modify to some extent the mechanisms involved in disease progression.

However, no studies have examined the association between quality of life and physical activity in newly diagnosed patients, who are at a less advanced disease stage and can more easily engage in exercise and rehabilitation.

To address that, researchers in the U.S. examined data from 152 adult patients, recruited from October 2020 to November 2021, who had been diagnosed in the past two years. They were on average 41 years old and had a mean disease duration of 1.1 years. The majority were women.

Participants were asked to report their physical activity levels using the Godin Leisure-Time Exercise Questionnaire. This is a validated tool that measures sessions lasting more than 15 minutes of mild, moderate, or intense physical activity within seven days.

The participants also completed a self-reported questionnaire, called the 12-Item Short Form Survey, which measures the physical and psychological components of quality of life. Higher scores indicate better quality of life in both domains.

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No link seen between physical activity and mental component of quality of life

Results showed a significant association between physical activity and the physical component of quality of life in these early-stage MS patients. No link was observed between physical activity and the mental component of quality of life, but exercise was found to be negatively associated with mood, fatigue, and the presence of other co-existing conditions (comorbidities).

To determine if the relationship between exercise and physical quality of life was driven by other factors, the team conducted a statistical analysis which accounted for factors such as fatigue, mood, comorbidities, and disability status.

In that analysis, the correlation between physical activity and the physical component of quality of life remained statistically significant, suggesting a direct association. Also, the team found that physical activity, together with fatigue and disability status, could explain 63% of the variation in physical quality-of-life scores.

The findings indicate that physical activity “might be an important modifiable behavior worth promoting in persons newly diagnosed with MS to enhance [quality of life] in early-stage MS,” the researchers wrote.

Nevertheless, because fatigue and disability also meaningfully influence this relationship, interventional changes to promote physical activity should consider strategies to minimize these factors.