This article was originally published here
J Rehabil Med. 2021 Mar 19. doi: 10.2340/16501977-2814. Online ahead of print.
BACKGROUND: There is insufficient knowledge about how aerobic exercise impacts the disease process of multiple sclerosis, which is characterized by accumulation of white matter lesions and accelerated brain atrophy.
OBJECTIVE: To examine the effect of aerobic exercise on neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration by magnetic resonance imaging and clinical measures of disease activity and progression in persons with multiple sclerosis.
PATIENTS AND METHODS: An exploratory 12-week randomized control trial including an intervention group (n = 14, 12 weeks of aerobic exercise twice weekly) and a control group (n = 14, continuation of usual lifestyle). Primary outcomes were magnetic resonance imaging measures (lesion load, brain structure volume change), while secondary outcomes included disability measures, blood cytokine levels, cognitive tests and patient-reported outcomes.
RESULTS: The effects of aerobic exercise on whole brain and grey matter atrophy were minor. Surprisingly, the observed effect on volume (atrophy) in selected brain substructures was heterogeneous. Putaminal and posterior cingulate volumes decreased, parahippocampal gyrus volume increased, thalamus and amygdala volume remained the same, and active lesion load and count decreased. However, apart from weak improvements in walking speed and brain-derived neurotrophic factor levels, there was no effect of aerobic exercise on other clinical, cognitive or patient-reported outcomes.
CONCLUSION: These results suggest that aerobic exercise in persons with multiple sclerosis has a positive effect on the volume of some of the substructures of the brain, possibly indicating a slowing of the neurodegenerative process in these regions, but a negative impact on the volume of some other substructures, with unclear implications. Further research is needed to determine whether the slight decrease in active lesion volume and count implies an anti-inflammatory effect of aerobic exercise, and the exact significance of the heterogeneous results of volumetric assessments.