MSers: Protect your brain from MS – with exercise!!

“For a long time, MS patients were told not to exercise because there was a fear it could exacerbate their symptoms. But we’re finding that if MS patients exercise in a controlled setting, it can actually help them with their cognitive function.”

Yes, it seems that exercise is also good for us MSers! As you can guess from the above, new findings reveal that MS patients who exercise a lot perform better on tests of cognitive function than the less-fit MS patients! Here are the main takeouts from the article…

“We found that aerobic fitness has a protective effect on parts of the brain that are most affected by multiple sclerosis,” said Ruchika Shaurya Prakash, lead author of the study and assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University.

“As a result, these fitter patients actually show better performance on tasks that measure processing speed.”

“Physically fit MS patients had fewer lesions compared to those who weren’t as fit and the lesions they did have tended to be smaller,” Prakash said. “This is significant and can help explain why the higher-fit patients did better on tests of brain functioning.”

Aerobic fitness was also associated with less-damaged brain tissue in MS patients, both the gray matter and white matter!

….

The study found that fitness in MS patients was associated with larger volume of gray matter, accounting for about 20 percent of the volume in gray matter. That’s important, Prakash said, because gray matter is linked to brain processing skills.

“Even in gray matter that appeared relatively healthy, we found a deterioration in the volume in MS patients,” she said. “But for some of the highest fit MS patients, we found that their gray matter volume was nearly equivalent to that of healthy controls.”

In sum, all of the three MRI tests conducted in this study showed that parts of the brain involved in processing speed are all negatively affected by MS but less so in patients who are aerobically fit.

Other researchers have also found that exercise promotes the production of nerve growth factors, proteins which are important for the growth and maintenance of neurons in the brain.

“Our hypothesis is that aerobic exercise enhances these nerve growth factors in MS patients, which increases the volume of the gray matter and increases the integrity of the white matter,” Prakash said. “As a result there is an improvement in cognitive function.”

Prakash and her colleagues plan to extend this research by studying whether exercise interventions with MS patients can actually improve their cognition and have positive physical effects on the brain.

Details on how the study was conducted can be accessed through the Medical News Today website – the link can be found on the right.

(article dated February 19th 2010)

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