Resistance training exercises may benefit middle-aged MS patients

Physical regimen showed significant gains in muscle strength

Lindsey Shapiro, PhD avatar

by Lindsey Shapiro, PhD |

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Resistance training by middle-aged people with multiple sclerosis (MS) was linked with significant improvements in muscle strength in a recent meta-analysis of previous clinical trial data.

The analysis indicated the benefits of such training, which is designed to boost strength and endurance, were more variable in fatigue and quality of life. And, while resistance training alone didn’t significantly improve gait, gains were seen when it was combined with motor control exercises.

“Healthcare professionals should consider the ongoing use of resistance training-based interventions for this demographic,” the study’s researchers wrote in “Is Resistance Training an Option to Improve Functionality and Muscle Strength in Middle-Aged People with Multiple Sclerosis? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis,” which was published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine. Still, “there is an urgent need for more research efforts in this area, employing larger sample sizes and employing higher-quality … methods,” they said.

For most MS patients, progressive damage to the brain and spinal cord leads to movement problems like gait disturbances, muscle spasms, spasticity, that is, an abnormal increase in muscle tone and spasms, and balance issues. The symptoms can contribute to fatigue, where a person feels exhausted trying to perform daily activities.

An appropriate physical exercise regimen is often recommended for MS patients to help prevent or delay functional declines and ease symptoms, offering better physical fitness and quality of life.

Among the types of exercise proposed for MS patients is resistance training, which involves activities designed to increase muscle strength and improve endurance, an example being weightlifting.

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Reviewing benefits of resistance training exercises in MS

Studies indicate resistance training may have a range of benefits in MS, including fatigue reduction, increased muscle strength and walking ability, and better life quality. It could be especially beneficial for middle-aged and older patients, where symptoms linked to low physical activity, such as spasticity, weakness, and fatigue, are prevalent, wrote the scientists, who conducted a review and meta-analysis of published findings from 12 randomized clinical trials that looked at the effects of resistance training in MS patients ages 45 and older. In a meta-analysis, findings from separate studies are combined to quantify the overall effect of a therapy or intervention across them.

The studies involved 459 MS patients, with a mean age of 49.7. Six studies compared resistance training interventions to usual care, while the others compared it to a different type of physical activity, such as treadmill training or stretching.

Results showed a significant benefit in muscle strength, although different studies looked at strength in various muscle groups, including the lower limbs, hands, or ankles.

Resistance training, either alone or with other types of training, was also associated with gait improvements, but the benefits were most pronounced when it was combined with other exercises that involve motor control training. Resistance training on its own was associated with modest, but nonsignificant gait improvements. Observed benefits of resistance training on patients’ perceived fatigue and quality of life were variable and no firm conclusion was drawn.

The findings suggest resistance training might have benefits, especially with muscle strength, for middle-aged MS patients. Combinations of resistance training with other forms of exercise, like motor control exercises, might also help.

Overall, “these findings underscore the potential of resistance training to prevent and ameliorate symptoms of physical functional impairment, offering an opportunity for early intervention to mitigate the impact of MS-related conditions,” the researchers wrote. “Further research is required to determine the best protocols and patient subgroups that will benefit most from this well-known and easily implemented intervention.”