Exercise May Reduce Multiple Sclerosis Disease Activity in Children

Regular exercise may decrease MS symptoms.

Regular exercise may decrease MS symptoms.

In addition to the overall fitness benefits from exercise, physical activity may improve the quality of life in young multiple sclerosis (MS) patients.

A recent study published in online in Neurology finds that children with MS who get regular exercise may have a less active disease.

"Up to three-quarters of children with MS experience depression, tiredness, or memory and thinking impairment," said study author E. Ann Yeh, MD. "Our research is important since little is known regarding how lifestyle behaviors may affect the disease."

The study included 31 children with MS and 79 children who experienced a single inflammatory neurologic event. The children were given questionnaires regarding fatigue, depression, and exercise frequency. Additionally, 60 children with MS were given MRI brain scans to measure brain volume and the amount and type of MS lesions they had.

Just 45% of children with MS participated in any strenuous physical activity, compared with 82% of the other children. Children with MS who participated in strenuous physical activity were more likely to have lower overall T2 lesion volume in the brain, which is indicative of disease activity, than did children with MS who did not exercise.

Children who exercised had a median of 0.46 cm3 of T2 lesions, compared with 3.4 cm3 among children who didn’t exercise. Furthermore, children who participated in strenuous activity had a median of 0.5 relapses per year, compared with 1 per year for children with no strenuous activity.

The MS patients were also found to have higher levels of fatigue and depression compared with the other children in the study. No differences were found in whole brain volumes, as the results were the same after adjusting for disease severity.

Researchers added that there is an association between physical activity and MS disease activity, not a cause-and-effect relationship.

"These findings add to the possibility that physical activity may have a beneficial effect on the health of the brain," Dr. Yeh said.