Thu, 08/13/2015 – 8:33am
Bevin Fletcher, Associate Editor

Children with multiple sclerosis (MS) who get regular exercise may have a less active disease, according to a new study published online Wednesday in the journal Neurology.

Children responded to questionnaires about tiredness, depression and exercise habits.  The study included 79 children who had experienced a single inflammatory neurological event and 31 children with MS.  MRI brain scans were conducted on 60 of those children to measure brain volume and the amount and type of MS lesions.

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

Overall, MS patients who participated in strenuous physical activity were associated with a less active disease, regarding the volume (amount) of lesions, and relapses per year.   There was no difference in whole brain volumes between children who partook in strenuous activity and those who did not, however those who did were more likely to have a lower overall volume of lesions that indicate disease activity, or T2 lesions.  Those that exercised had a median of 0.46 cm3 of T2 lesions, compared to 3.4 cm3 for those who did not.  The active children also had a median of 0.5 relapses per year, compared to one per year for those with no strenuous activity.   Less children (45 percent) with MS reported participating in strenuous activity compared to the other children (82 percent). Those with MS also reported higher levels of tiredness and depression compared to the others studied.

“These findings add to the possibility that physical activity may have a beneficial effect on the health of the brain,” said Yeh, associate professor at the University of Toronto in Canada.

The study author noted this does not determine a cause-and-effect relationship between disease activity and physical activity, but shows an association between the two.

The study was supported by the MS Society of Canada, Canadian Multiple Sclerosis Scientific Research Foundation and SickKids Foundation.