Fact or Myth: Can Exercise Help with MS Symptoms?

This is FACT. 

A group of seniors practicing water aerobics in an indoor pool with dumbells, reaching their arms and following the instructor.

According to the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation, more than 400,000 people in the United States and about 2.5 million people around the world have MS. Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that causes the body’s immune system to attack the nervous tissue, leading to movement disorders, physical and mental exhaustion, faintness, depression, and paresthesia, which can include itchiness, numbness, and the feeling of pins and needles.

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, University of Utah researchers first showed that exercise helps with MS symptoms in 1996. Benefits studied included:

  • Improved cardiovascular fitness
  • Better strength
  • Enhanced bowel and bladder function
  • Less fatigue
  • Reduced depression
  • Improved attitude
  • Increased social participation

Since then, studies have shown that exercise also helps boost cognitive function and improve overall mood. The latest study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise suggests that yoga and aquatic exercise in particular can help relieve the symptoms of MS.

Recent Research

Researchers from the University of Basel, along with scientists from Kermanshah, Iran, separated 54 female MS patients with an average age of 34 into three groups. One group did yoga three times a week, another group participated in aquatic exercise three times a week, and the third group acted as the control and didn’t do any exercise. Participants completed a questionnaire ascertaining their symptoms before and after the trial. After eight weeks, results showed that MS patients who performed yoga or aquatic exercise showed significantly reduced fatigue, depression, and parathesia. In fact, the women who did not exercise had a 35-fold higher likelihood of moderate to severe depression.

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society also recommends tai chi as part of an exercise protocol…and don’t discount everyday physical activities such as gardening and cooking!