Exercise Improves Mental Health, Life Quality for MS Patients: Analysis

Reposted with permission from MS News Today

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21 Mar 2024 | ~2:58 Engagement Time

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MS News Today. This article is reposted with permission from MS News Today.

Aerobic Exercise, Resistance Training Recommended as Clinical Interventions

Getting physical exercise can improve subjective well-being and health-related quality of life for people with multiple sclerosis (MS), a new meta-analysis shows.

“Exercise interventions, especially aerobic or combined aerobic and resistance training, should be implemented in clinical practice to promote mental health” and health-related quality of life in people with MS, researchers wrote.

The study, “The effect of exercise on mental health and health-related quality of life in individuals with multiple sclerosis: A Systematic review and meta-analysis,” was published in Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders.

Staying active is an important part of health, with a large body of research showing exercise has both physical and mental benefits for people with MS. Scientists in Italy and Canada conducted a meta-analysis to assess what’s known about how exercise affects mental health and life quality for MS patients.

A meta-analysis is a type of study where scientists pool data from multiple individual published studies that have already examined a specific outcome — in this case, the effect of exercise on mental health and life quality — and analyze the data collectively. Because they include data on more patients, meta-analyses have more statistical power to detect meaningful effects than single studies.

Meta-Analysis Included Data From 49 Studies Involving 2,000 People With MS

This meta-analysis included data from 49 studies, published from 1996 to 2023, covering more than 2,000 people with MS. In each of the studies, some patients were assigned to undertake an exercise program, while other patients either did non-exercise programs or had no intervention.

The studies included a range of different types of exercise, including aquatic therapy, Pilates, balance training, strength training, and aerobic exercise. The researchers noted that, generally speaking, most patients were able to stick with exercise programs well, and no major safety issues associated with exercising were reported in most studies.

Analyses of all the available data showed consistent evidence suggesting patients who exercised were more likely than those who didn’t to report improvements in subjective measures of overall well-being. A fair amount of data indicated patients who participated in exercise programs tended to report improvements in their health-related quality of life, and tended to feel more comfortable in social settings.

Exercise interventions, especially aerobic or combined aerobic and resistance training, should be implemented in clinical practice.

Aerobic Exercise Showed Consistent Benefits

Aerobic exercise programs (those that raise the heart rate and keep it up) showed an especially consistent effect.

“The results of our sensitivity analyses support the use of aerobic training as a strategy for improving mental health and [health-related quality of life] in [people with] MS,” the researchers wrote, noting programs combining aerobic training with strength training also showed consistent mental health benefits.

Although these findings broadly reinforce the idea that getting active can be beneficial for MS patients, the researchers noted that in all of the studies included in this analysis, most patients were younger than 65 and didn’t have very extensive disability. Therefore, it’s unclear whether these findings apply to people with MS who are older or less mobile.

“More studies in [people with] MS with [older than] 65 years of age and/or with a higher level of impairments are needed before making final inferences on the effectiveness and safety of exercise in such subgroups,” the researchers wrote.

This article was written by Marisa Wexler, MS | March 14, 2024