New research has revealed that resistance training protects the brains of people with multiple sclerosis (MS), which may delay the development of the disease. The research was conducted by Aarhus University, Aarhus University Hospital, the University of Southern Denmark and the University Medical Centre Hamburg-Eppendorf, and it was published in Multiple Sclerosis Journal. The aim of the study was to investigate whether physical training has effects on more than just MS symptoms.
The study shows that resistance training has a number of positive effects on the brain, which go beyond what can be achieved through effective disease specific medication.
Researcher and Associate Professor Ulrik Dalgas from the Department of Public Health at Aarhus University, said: 'For the past 15 years, we have known that physical exercise does not harm people with MS, but instead often has a positive impact on, for example, their ability to walk, their levels of fatigue, their muscle strength and their aerobic capacity, which has otherwise often deteriorated. But the fact that physical training also seems to have a protective effect on the brain in people with MS is new and important knowledge.'
The study followed 35 people with MS for six months. Half of the group took part in resistance training twice a week, while the other half continued to live their lives normally without systematic training.
Prior to and following the six-month period, the test subjects had their brains MRI scanned, and the researchers could see that there was a tendency for the brain to shrink less in those patients who undertook resistance training.
'Among persons with MS, the brain shrinks markedly faster than normal. Drugs can counter this development, but we saw a tendency that training further minimises brain shrinkage in patients already receiving medication. In addition, we saw that several smaller brain areas actually started to grow in response to training,' says Ulrik Dalgas.
The researchers behind the study are still unable to explain why training has a positive effect on the brain in people with MS. A bigger and more in-depth on-going study will help to clarify this, and may also lead to improved treatment options, says Ulrik Dalgas. However, he stresses that the aim is not to replace medication with physical training.
It is also not yet clear whether all people with MS can benefit from this type of exercise, as it has not been sufficiently tested in the more severely affected patients.