Remote aerobic walking exercise may offer cognition benefits for persons with MS

May 05, 2023
Results of a recent pilot study support remote aerobic exercise training in people with multiple sclerosis-related cognitive impairment. The authors said their findings show that remotely delivered exercise programs can be just as effective as traditional in-person interventions, hence providing a more inclusive solution for persons with MS.

A research team at the Center for Neuropsychology and Neuroscience Research, supported by Kessler Foundation, followed a group of 25 fully ambulatory persons with MS who were prescreened for deficits in cognitive processing speed; 19 completed the study as prescribed. The researchers used the Symbol Digit Modalities Test, a widely used neuropsychological test for assessing information processing speed in individuals with MS, and the California Verbal Learning Test, a widely used test of for verbal learning and memory. Evaluations were conducted at baseline and after 16 weeks.

Participants were randomly assigned to 16 weeks of either remotely delivered and supported aerobic walking exercise training, or remotely delivered and supported stretching and range-of-motion activities. The subjects were provided with wearable fitness trackers and weekly video consultations with an exercise specialist to ensure proper technique, safety, and adherence to the prescribed exercise regimen.

Those participants who were randomly assigned to aerobic walking exercise training demonstrated strong improvements in their SDMT scores after the 16-week study period, relative to participants who were randomly assigned to stretching and range-of-motion activities. The findings suggest the remotely delivered aerobic walking exercise training had a positive effect on their cognitive processing speed. Additionally, the study showed the participants had high adherence rates to the exercise program, with an average of 80 percent of the prescribed sessions being completed.

These findings are particularly significant because cognitive processing speed impairment is a common symptom of MS, affecting up to 70 percent of patients. Impairment is linked to reduced quality of life, increased unemployment, and decreased social functioning. With limited effective treatments available, this study is promising for individuals with this disabling symptom.

The remote delivery and support of the aerobic walking exercise training program also has major implications for the accessibility and convenience of care for individuals with MS. Many patients face barriers to attending in-person exercise programs, such as transportation issues or financial constraints. The researchers anticipate these findings will encourage the development of more accessible, convenient, and broad-scale exercise interventions, ultimately leading to improved quality of life for those affected by MS.

The study was published online by Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders.

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