Facebook Pixel Code
About Sickkids
About SickKids

August 13, 2015

Increased physical activity may improve health outcomes for children with multiple sclerosis

By Sarah Warr

Research from The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) suggests that children with multiple sclerosis (MS) who participate in higher levels of physical activity may have a less active disease.

Up to three-quarters of children with MS experience depression, fatigue or cognitive impairment affecting their quality of life. The findings from this study could help in the development of new treatment options using behavioural approaches to improve outcomes for children with paediatric MS.  

The study was published online August 12 in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

“We found higher levels of strenuous physical activity were associated with indicators of lower disease activity in children with paediatric multiple sclerosis. This means that strenuous physical activity may have a positive effect on health outcomes for these patients,” says senior author Dr. Ann Yeh, Director of the MS and Demyelinating Disorders Program and Associate Scientist, Neurosciences & Mental Health at SickKids. “Our findings illustrate the complex relationship between lifestyle and multifactorial diseases like multiple sclerosis.”

Researchers evaluated patients’ exercise level and disease activity by analyzing magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans and questionnaires completed by paediatric patients with MS. Health contribution scores calculated from the questionnaires indicated that a large number of children with MS were insufficiently active, with only 45 per cent of these patients reporting participating in strenuous physical activity. Patients who reported higher levels of physical activity also had lower fatigue scores.

Higher levels of strenuous physical activity were also associated with fewer T2 lesion volumes on patients’ MRIs. These findings support other studies showing that increased levels of physical activity improve brain function. Previous studies have also highlighted the relationship between physical activity and outcomes in adult MS patients.

“While more studies need to be done to establish the relationship between exercise and disease activity, behavioural approaches may assist in the management of the problems that many paediatric MS patients experience,” says Yeh, Associate Professor, Department of Paediatrics, University of Toronto.

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