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Study Says Kids with MS Who Exercise More Have Less Disease Activity – further research needed to determine cause and effect

August 12, 2015

In a small study of children with MS and those without MS who had experienced a single neurologic attack, moderate physical activity was associated with less fatigue, and strenuous activity was associated with fewer relapses and less disease activity seen on MRI brain scans. More research is needed to determine whether physical activity reduced disease activity or whether disease activity forced participants to reduce physical activity. Stephanie A. Grover, MSc and E. Ann Yeh, MD (Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto) and colleagues report their findings in Neurology (Published online August 12, 2015). The study was supported by the MS Society of Canada, Canadian MS Scientific Research Foundation, and SickKids Foundation.

Background: In addition to being essential to general health and well-being, growing research suggests that exercise is helpful in managing many MS symptoms and improving quality of life. In this study, the researchers focused, in particular, on the link between physical activity and MS symptoms that impact quality of life in children.

The Study: Investigators enrolled 31 patients between ages five and 18 with MS and 79 who had not been diagnosed with MS but who had experienced a single episode of neurologic symptoms. The team collected data on disease activity, duration of disease, and relapse rates. Sixty children were administered MRI scans. With the help of parents or a study coordinator, participants completed questionnaires on leisure-time exercise, including the frequency of strenuous (i.e., running or jogging), moderate (i.e., fast walking), and mild (i.e., easy, leisurely walking) physical activity. Clinical measures to assess fatigue and depression also were administered.

Forty-five percent of the children with MS reported participating in strenuous physical activity, compared to 82% of children who had experienced one neurologic event. Those children who reported participating in moderate amounts of physical activity reported less fatigue. Those who reported strenuous physical activity had less disease activity on MRI scans and lower relapse rates.

Conclusions: These results suggest an association between physical activity and the severity of MS in children, but further research needs to be done to determine the nature of this relationship -- does less physical activity make fatigue and other symptoms worse, or is fatigue or other symptoms the reason that children are not exercising?

“Either way, this study highlights what we are seeing in adults with MS – that living well, including being physically active, can help people with MS to manage the disease and live their best lives,” says Nicholas LaRocca, PhD, Vice President of Health Care Delivery and Policy Research for the National MS Society.

Read more about how the Society is driving wellness research
Read more about exercise
Learn about a network for families of children and teens with MS

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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