Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a disease caused by inflammation in the brain. As a result of the inflammation, the body’s immune system begins to attack the insulating coating (myelin) around axons. Axons are almost like a tail on a brain cell. This “tail” allows the brain cell to send electric messages to other parts of the brain and body.
When the myelin is destroyed, the axons are no longer insulated. As a result, the electric messages fade before reaching their destination. The inability to send these messages translates into a variety of symptoms, depending on which brain cells are affected. These symptoms include depression, blurred vision, tingling or numbness of the hands or feet, difficulties with coordination and balance, fatigue and bladder problems.
The most common type of MS is “relapsing-remitting MS” (RRMS) – where the symptoms flare up in an unpredictable manner for a short period of time, followed by months or years of remission. During the remission, the symptoms can go away completely or, especially as the disease progresses, they can leave permanent problems.
“Progressive MS” is another form of the disease. In progressive MS, the symptoms accumulate slowly over time and there is no remission period. Approximately 65% of RRMS patients will eventually transition to progressive MS, although it takes about 19 years on average after the initial RRMS diagnosis. Intuitively, a MS patient might shy away from exercise. After all, how could exercise possibly be good for a disease that causes numb feet, coordination problems and fatigue?
Scientists have conducted clinical trials on the benefits of exercise in MS patients – looking at patients with mild and severe MS – and the results are very similar across all studies. The short answer is: EXERCISE IS GOOD FOR YOU, TOO!