Exercise Beneficial For Children With Multiple Sclerosis, Study Finds – Forbes

Children with multiple sclerosis (MS) who engage in regular exercise may potentially have a milder form of their disease with fewer symptoms, according to results of a new study published online today in the Journal, Neurology.

“Up to three-quarters of children with MS experience depression, tiredness, or memory and thinking impairment,” said lead author E. Ann Yeh, MD, of The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) in Toronto and Associate Professor at the University of Toronto in Toronto, Canada.  “Our research is important since little is known regarding how lifestyle behaviors may affect the disease.”

This area is of particular interest to neurologists because children with MS generally experience a more severe course compared to adults, developing more relapses leading to recurrent episodes of weakness. As a result, any intervention to improve quality of life for children with MS would represent a step forward.

MS typically develops in adults between the age of 20-40, and may present with episodes of visual loss, tingling, fatigue and generalized weakness. The exact cause is not yet clear but we do know that the body begins to attack itself, targeting myelin, the fatty substance protecting and covering nerve fibers in the central nervous system.  Treatment is with high dose steroids in the acute phase,  followed by newer so called “disease-modifying” therapies helping to significantly reduce relapse rates and symptoms.

MS is rare in children compared to adults, making up between 2-10 percent of all patients with MS, typically occurring episodically in a so-called “relapsing and remitting” form.

The investigators in this study studied a total of 110 patients from the ages of 5-18. They provided questionnaires to 31 children with MS, inquiring about tiredness, depression and how often they engaged in exercise. They also evaluated 79 children who had experienced a single inflammatory neurologic episode as well. Sixty of the 79 patients also underwent MRI brain scans to evaluate brain volume and to characterize their particular MS lesions.

Based on the study data, just 45 percent of the children with MS reported participating in any strenuous physical activity while 82 percent of the other children participated in strenuous physical exercise.

Compared to the children with MS who did not engage in strenuous activity, those children with MS who did participate in strenuous physical activity were more apt to have a lower density of brain lesions that are a marker for disease activity, otherwise known as T2 lesions.