MS Consult

The Benefits of Exercise for Patients With Multiple Sclerosis

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Q) Should I recommend exercise to my patients living with MS?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) causes varied symptoms and functional impairment, depending on what part of the central nervous system is involved. Currently, many patients living with MS have sedentary lifestyles, which increases the risk for comorbidities such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis.1-3

Some MS symptoms—ambulatory difficulty, balance impairment, heat intolerance, muscle weakness, spasticity, visual impairment, and fatigue—act as obstacles to routine physical exercise; they also typically worsen over the course of the disease.2-5 In addition, psychosocial factors such as lower levels of education, single status, smoking, and depression or anxiety have been shown to increase the likelihood that a patient will not meet the World Health Organization’s recommendations on physical activity for health.1

For many years, MS patients were advised against physical activity out of concern that it would exacerbate symptoms.6 It is likely still true that patients who fear worsened symptoms or have higher levels of disability avoid physical activity.2-5 Unfortunately, for persons living with MS, this cycle of fear and reduced activity perpetuates itself, resulting in increased disability and decreased quality of life. Thankfully, many of the physical and social factors that prevent patients from exercising are modifiable.1,4

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