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Society-Funded Study Helps People with MS to Increase and Sustain Physical Activity with Website and Coaching

March 16, 2023

An internet program for behavior change supported by video chats with coaches increased and sustained physical activity in a phase 3 study of 318 people with MS. Rigorous studies like this one, funded by the National MS Society, are necessary to explore how to increase wellness behaviors and restore function in people with MS.
  • Background: In addition to being essential to general health and well-being, exercise is helpful in managing many MS symptoms. Exercise doesn't have to be a rigorous cardiovascular workout to provide benefits.  Physical activity in general is beneficial and can include a variety of things most people can do in the comfort of their home or community. Studies show, however, that people with MS are significantly less active than people without the disease. In an early study funded by the Society, this team showed that an internet program supported by online coaching increased physical activity over six months.
  • This Study: To follow up these findings with a larger study, Robert Motl, PhD (University of Illinois at Chicago) received a research grant from the National MS Society to test this intervention in a group of 318 people with MS. For 6 months, one group participated in an internet-based approach that included use of a website and video chats with a behavioral coach, specifically aimed to increase physical activity. The other group received material and coaching on general wellness that was not specifically designed to increase physical activity. After 6 months of these interventions, the two groups were examined to measure their levels of physical activity. Activity was measured using an accelerometer placed in a pouch worn on a belt during waking hours. Participants were also asked to report levels of physical activity.
  • Results: Minutes per day of physical activity increased significantly more in the behavioral intervention group compared with the control group. The increase was maintained after six months of follow-up when there was no longer coaching or access to the website. The study also collected data on “patient-reported outcomes,” that is, whether participants reported improvements in physical activity, walking, cognitive function, fatigue, depression, anxiety, pain, sleep quality, and quality of life. Self-reported physical activity and fatigue improved, but not other symptoms.
  • The Meaning: Researchers are searching for ways to help people with MS to increase physical activity, because evidence is growing of the benefits of becoming more active. From this study, it appears that a website supported by coaching/video chatting can help, and may provide an effective way for individuals with MS to increase physical activity and maintain that increase. This team is continuing to study the effectiveness of this method for improving other outcomes in an NIH-funded clinical trial.
Resources Primary results of a phase-III, randomized controlled trial of the Behavioral Intervention for increasing Physical Activity in Multiple Sclerosis project” by Robert W Motl, Ariel Kidwell-Chandler, Brian M Sandroff, Lara A Pilutti, Gary R Cutter, Roberto Aldunate, and Rachel E Bollaert is published in the MS Journal ( published online February 27, 2023).
Randomized controlled trial of the behavioral intervention for increasing physical activity in multiple sclerosis project: Secondary, patient-reported outcomes” by Robert W Motl, Brian M Sandroff, Lara A Pilutti, Gary R Cutter, Roberto Aldunate, Ariel Kidwell-Chandler, and Rachel E Bollaert is published in Contemporary Clinical Trials (2023 Feb;125:107056).

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system. Symptoms range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis, and there is currently no cure for MS. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are leading to better understanding and moving us closer to a world free of MS. An estimated 1 million people live with MS in the United States. Most people with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 50, and it affects women three times more than men.


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