Exercise Impacts Multiple Sclerosis in Children
Exercise may have a significant impact on multiple sclerosis in children, according to a new study. The findings, which appear in the online issue of Neurology, could be important for the estimated 10,000 children in the United States and the many thousands of others around the world who have multiple sclerosis.
Symptoms of multiple sclerosis among children and adults are similar, but there are some notable differences and other factors to consider. For one, developing MS at an early age can mean individuals will suffer physical disabilities at an earlier age as well.
In addition, children may experience seizures and a severe fatigue that adults with MS usually don’t have. Up to 75 percent of young people with multiple sclerosis suffer with depression, thinking impairment, and memory problems, which can make going to school and learning especially challenging.
New MS exercise study
The researchers, under direction of E. Ann Yeh, MD, with The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto and associated professor at the University of Toronto, evaluated 110 children (ages 5-18 years) who had demyelinating conditions: 31 children with multiple sclerosis and 79 who had monophasic acquired demyelinating syndrome (a single inflammatory neurologic episode). The latter group members were considered to be controls.
The children were asked to report on their physical activity lasting 15 minutes or more during a typical week, and the activities were categorized as strenuous, moderate, and mild. None of the participants had very high Expanded Disability Status Scale scores, so disability was not a significant factor in activity.
Here’s what the authors found:
- 45 percent of kids with MS and 82 percent of controls reported participating in strenuous physical exercise
- More patients with multiple sclerosis than controls were insufficiently active (32.26% vs. 12.66%)
- Kids in both groups had similar moderate and mild activity levels
- In a subgroup of 60 children, magnetic resonance imaging scans revealed that kids with multiple sclerosis who reported strenuous activity had lower T2 lesion volumes when compared with their less active peers. These children also had a lower annualized relapse rate.
- Kids with multiple sclerosis were more tired and depressed compared with controls
Based on these findings, the authors concluded that more research is needed, as these results show an association between exercise and MS disease activity but not a cause-and-effect relationship. They also pointed out, however, that the findings suggest “a potential protective effect of strenuous PA [physical activity] in this population.” Parents of children with multiple sclerosis may want to encourage as much physical activity as possible while also discussing the matter with their physician.
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Grover SA et al. Lower physical activity is associated with higher disease burden in pediatric multiple sclerosis. Neurology 2015 Aug 12 online