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24 April 2012

Progressive resistance training improves life for people with MS

Danish research confirms the health benefits of progressive resistance training for people with MS.

A Danish study has analysed all the well-conducted published studies in the area of progressive resistance training (PRT), that is gradually increasing weights in a strength development program.

Up until the 1990s, most neurologists were advising people with MS against exercise as it was thought to worsen symptoms and fatigue. In fact, many, many studies have now shown the exact opposite, and this study was an attempt to summarise all the published work on the subject.

Using very sound methodology, the researchers showed that PRT is of major benefit for building up muscle strength. They also summarised evidence that PRT helps functional capacity, such as walking distance and gait, and balance, including reducing the fear of falling. Importantly, PRT is also of benefit in improving fatigue, quality of life and mood.

While studies exploring how these benefits occurred were scarce, there was some suggestion that exercise tended to shift the immune profile towards an anti-inflammatory state, and that risk factors for heart disease, which we know are similar to those for MS, were reduced.

This is an important review paper. Many people with MS in the past have avoided exercise and weight training, believing that it might make things worse, or worsen fatigue. In fact, if fatigue is a problem, a graded exercise program would appear to be particularly helpful in improving this symptom.

Of course, exercise has been shown to improve mood and quality of life for most people, but it is good to have the research evidence base now confirming that it is good for people with MS too, and can make a significant difference to our experience of life.