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How Exercise Can Improve the Lives of MS Patients

By Justin McAuliffe, May 26, 2015

Researchers have recently discovered a strong link between physical exercise and the prevention or delay of neuro-degenerative symptoms, which include a breakdown of motor skills and mental capacity in patients suffering from debilitating neuro-diseases such as MS.

In observance of World MS Day this year, we would like to highlight an interesting conversation taking place between researchers and wellness professionals across the Multiple Sclerosis field. At the heart of their discussion is a promising new technique for helping to slow memory degradation in patients and improve cognitive ability. The treatment is not a new drug or therapy, but simple physical exercise.

Researchers have recently discovered a strong link between physical exercise and the prevention or delay of neuro-degenerative symptoms, which include a breakdown of motor skills and mental capacity in patients suffering from debilitating neuro-diseases such as MS. Physical activity seems to benefit the brain in a number of ways. Exercise not only increases blood and oxygen circulation, it also increases the brain’s neuro protective chemicals, lessening the deterioration of neural connections that occurs naturally with age.

The importance of exercise for MS patients is not a new concept. In 1974, Professor Ritchie Russell, Professor of Clinical Neurology at the University of Oxford, published a book which was the first to detail the benefits of exercise for people with MS. These effects were primarily physical health benefits such as increased strength, higher self-esteem, and better bladder control. Subsequent studies have further demonstrated the effectiveness of exercise and its ability to improve cognitive function and provide mood enhancement for patients.

At the Marilyn Hilton MS Achievement Center and at similar centers around the country, one of the most effective treatments is physical exercise, such as jogging, yoga, and Tai Chi which are incorporated into the Center’s daily activities. In particular, the National MS Society recently found jogging and similar exercises using elliptical machines, to be some of the most effective tools for preventing neuro-degenerative symptoms.

Using exercise as a way to delay and slow cognitive degradation is not just limited to MS patients. Preliminary research results have shown that exercise may be an effective way to slow the neuro-degenerative effects from other diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.

It is critical that any exercise program be designed to fit the specific capabilities and limitations of the individual and may need to be adjusted, as MS patients’ symptoms change over time. The National MS Society suggests consulting with a physical therapist experienced with MS to design, supervise, and revise an exercise program. They also recommend that any person with MS who is initiating a new exercise program should consult with a physician before starting. Some great adaptive exercise ideas for patients suffering from a neuro-degenerative disease are yoga, Tai Chi, and aquatic exercises. For more information on exercising and MS in general, the National MS Society is a great resource.

Justin McAuliffe Twitter

Program Associate, Special Programs

Justin McAuliffe Twitter

Program Associate, Special Programs

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