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The Benefits of Exercise for Patients With Multiple Sclerosis

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Many types of exercise have been studied in patients living with MS; those shown to be beneficial include regimens focused on cardiovascular fitness, resistance training, balance, and flexibility. Evidence supports the benefits of exercise training for improving overall fitness, muscle strength, ambulation, cognition, spasticity, fatigue, and anxiety and depression in patients with MS.2-4,6-9 Exercise with aerobic, anaerobic, or resistance training has been considered an important nonpharmacologic treatment for MS patients to improve quality of life without worsening disease symptoms.9 There is increasing evidence that engaging in more physical activity and improving physical fitness is an important modality to improve disease course and slow progression over time.

Any increase in symptoms related to exercise is transient, and there is no evidence of lasting harmful effects on overall day-to-day functioning or association with disease progression.6,10 Patient reports of the perceived benefits of exercise include maintenance of physical function, increased social involvement, and feelings of self-management and control.5 Thus, if patients can comply with an exercise regimen, much of the initial disability that limited their activity may be reduced.

More research is needed to fully elucidate what type of exercise is most beneficial for an individual patient.4,5,8,9 However, the benefits of exercise are clear: It can significantly improve quality of life by enhancing psychologic and physical functioning.1,3,5,6,8 Given this information, patients living with MS have incentives to exercise. Health care providers should endorse the benefits of exercise and work to help patients reduce barriers to physical activity.1-5—RR

Rebecca Rahn, MPA-C, MSCS
Augusta MS Center
Neurology Department, Augusta University, Georgia

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