The literature on exercise in MS strongly suggests that it improves quality of life, fitness and function, improves muscle power, exercise tolerance and mobility-related activities such as walking.
Exercise also improves mood and general well-being. What is missing from the evidence base is the obvious question: does exercise slow the progression of the illness? Danish researchers have attempted to examine this question through a systematic review of all the studies on exercise that have addressed this.
Naturally there is less evidence here than about drug therapies in MS due to a lack of funding for suitable studies. Nevertheless, the authors found considerable evidence in the animal model of MS, EAE (experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis), and in clinical studies of people with MS to suggest that exercise may well have a disease-modifying effect.
In experimental animals the onset of disease was delayed and the illness less severe for those animals that exercised; in humans, there was considerable evidence of a benefit for exercise in disease progression, symptoms, cognitive function, and walking impairment.
Further studies are needed, but it is clearly important for people with MS to undertake regular physical activity in whatever ways are possible, both to improve quality of life, but also potentially to have a positive impact on the course of the disease.
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