$40K grant will fund study of cycling and virtual reality for MS

Project to test if program using aerobic exercise can aid patient cognition

Andrea Lobo, PhD avatar

by Andrea Lobo, PhD |

Share this article:

Share article via email
A woman sporting a ponytail is shown riding a bicycle.

A research team at the Kessler Foundation has received a $39,994 grant from the Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers (CMSC) to investigate whether combining aerobic cycling with virtual reality can improve cognitive function in people with multiple sclerosis (MS).

A key focus of the study will be to assess processing speed, or the time a person takes to receive, understand, and respond to information — which often is impaired in MS patients. Slower processing speed has been shown to impact life quality among people with MS.

The project will be led by Carly Wender, PhD, a research scientist at Kessler’s Center for Neuropsychology and Neuroscience Research, in New Jersey. The nonprofit organization specializes in the field of disability and rehabilitation, and its scientists have found exercise training using walking aerobics to be a potential approach for treating impairments in processing speed.

“Processing speed problems can significantly affect the quality of life for individuals with MS, and existing treatments have shown limited effectiveness. Our research suggests that aerobic exercise, particularly walking exercise, could hold the key to addressing these challenges,” Wender said in a foundation press release.

For MS patients, who often experience walking difficulties due to the disease, the team instead will specifically focus on cycling, as it’s an aerobic exercise that may be safer, paired with virtual reality.

Recommended Reading
A woman is shown riding a bike.

Aerobic cycling eases fatigue and pain of MS, if intensity kept up

Study will test cycling sessions with and without virtual reality programs

Cognitive problems are observed in more than half of people with MS, and sometimes are one of the earliest signs of the disease. Such issues may impact a patient’s ability to perform activities of daily living, including working and participating in social activities.

To date, available treatments to improve cognition and processing speed, such as medication and cognitive rehabilitation approaches, have shown limited efficacy. But evidence suggests that exercising consistently, particularly doing aerobic activities, may improve the cognitive function of MS patients.

Aerobic exercise, often called cardio, involves activities and actions that impact a person’s cardiovascular system, increasing a person’s breathing or heart rate. Such exercise includes walking, running, or cycling.

Wender and other researchers at the foundation recently conducted a pilot study (NCT05344040) that demonstrated that a four-month home-based walking program was feasible and could help boost cognition in people with MS. The exercise program was based on current guidelines for MS adults with mild to moderate disability, and included at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise three times a week.

The team believes that walking requires a high level of multisensory processing from different sources. Specifically, such exercise involves perceiving the location, movement, and action of parts of the body, as well as visual and body functioning perception.

However, a walking program may not be safe for MS patients with mobility difficulties.

“Cycling, on the other hand, is a safer exercise modality, but typically requires lower multisensory processing demands,” Wender said.

Thus, “to enhance the multisensory demand and subsequent cognitive benefits of cycling, we’re testing the combination of cycling with two types of virtual reality,” she said.

This approach will help uncover the relationship between sensory demand and acute improvements in processing speed which will inform future research on exercise training for long-term processing speed improvements.

The now-funded project will compare the effects of a single session of cycling alone, or two cycling experiences enhanced with two virtual reality programs — one with a medium level of sensory demand and another with a high level of sensory demand. The programs will require participants to complete cognitive tasks while cycling.

“This approach will help uncover the relationship between sensory demand and acute improvements in processing speed which will inform future research on exercise training for long-term processing speed improvements,” Wender said.

No information was provided on the specifics of the study. Those interested in learning more may email Deb Hauss at [email protected] or Carolann Murphy at [email protected]. The CSMC, which provided the grant, is a New Jersey-based organization of MS health care professionals that works to improve the lives of people with the disease.