The other day while I was shadowing a neurologist, I encountered a multiple sclerosis (MS) patient.
The patient’s MS was stable and he was doing quite well on his medications.
He said the multiple sclerosis didn’t seem to be acting up, and that he had began on a new diet in hopes of slowing disease progression. He might be right: I am a firm believer in the holistic health of the body and eating healthy is very much a part of an individual’s body “machine.”
If I had known what I know now, however, I would have given him one extra tip for treating his condition.
Research, for a while, has shown that physical activity is effective in improving the mobility of patients with multiple sclerosis. However, a new study has found something even more exciting and specific than just plain old exercising.
This study found that this type of exercise can even protect the nervous system against multiple sclerosis, definitively aiding in slowing disease progression.
This exercise is called resistance exercise (exercise using an opposing force like dumbbells or resistance bands), and researchers have discovered that doing this type of training twice a week for just half of a year is associated with a reduced amount brain atrophy (brain tissue loss) for patients in the study, specifically, those with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS).
Even more encouraging, some patients in the study who engaged in the resistance training saw an improvement in the size of particular brain regions. This is the very first study that proves physical activity can actually protect the nervous system from MS, not just alleviate the symptoms of it.
The findings were reported in the Multiple Sclerosis Journal.
This study measured brain atrophy, which, as described above, is the reduced brain tissue size as well as neuron loss, in 35 patients with RRMS who were all already on medication. 18 patients were given directions to participate in resistance training twice a week for 6 months, and the other 17 were the control—these guys just carried out their normal routines.
Brain atrophy is a good variable to look at in a study concerning MS because it is characteristic of progressive multiple sclerosis. To learn more about MS, click here.
Before and after the 6 month time span, brain volume and cortical thickness were measured using an MRI.
Study co-author Professor Ulrik Dalgas explained some of the optimistic results, citing that even though drugs can work against brain shrinkage in MS patients, training was found to further minimize this brain shrinkage and help small brain areas start to re-grow.
Researchers do not know enough right now to pinpoint the exact reason why resistance training has such a positive effect on multiple sclerosis patients, but they are looking to figure that out in the near future.
Though researchers are skeptical that physical activity can entirely replace medication, this discovery is a great resource and supplement for multiple sclerosis patients. To read more about this study from Medical News Today, click this link.
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To learn more about living well with MS, check out one of our Contributors Well and Strong with MS here.