Hope for MS Sufferers: Resistance Training May Slow Brain Atrophy

Hope for MS Sufferers: Resistance Training May Slow Brain Atrophy
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Doctors usually advise people with multiple sclerosis (MS) not to exercise for fear that it could exacerbate the illness, but a recent study out of Denmark suggests that resistance training may slow down the progression of MS by slowing brain atrophy and, in some cases, enhancing brain volume. [1] [2]

More recent studies have shown that physical training can relieve many of the symptoms of MS, including 2 of the most telltale symptoms: fatigue and hindered mobility. [2]

Ulrik Dalgas, the study’s lead investigator and an associate professor in the department of public health at Aarhus University, said:

“Over the past six years, we have been pursuing the idea that physical training has effects on more than just the symptoms, and this study provides the first indications that physical exercise may protect the nervous system against the disease.

For the past 15 years, we have known that physical exercise does not harm people with multiple sclerosis, 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 multiple sclerosis is new and important knowledge.”

For the study, Dalgas and a team of researchers followed 35 people with MS for 6 months. Half of the group engaged in resistance training, while the other half served as a control group, continuing to live their lives as they always had.

Participants underwent brain scans both before and at the conclusion of the study. Through these tests, the researchers observed that the volunteers who engaged in resistance training – including leg presses, knee extensions, and hamstring curls – had less brain shrinkage, compared with those in the control group. [3]

Some patients’ scans even showed an increase in the volume of certain brain regions.

Dalgas explained:

“Among persons with multiple sclerosis, the brain shrinks markedly faster than normal. Drugs can counter this development, but we saw a tendency that training further minimizes brain shrinkage in patients already receiving medication. In addition, we saw that several smaller brain areas actually started to grow in response to training.” [2]

A larger, more in-depth study is necessary to investigate how resistance training positively affects the brain in people with multiple sclerosis. At the moment, the connection has researchers puzzled. One possibility is that the controlled movements increase blood flow to the brain, or they trigger an increase in brain activity. [3]

Moreover, it’s not clear whether or not such training would help everyone with MS. That’s why Dalgas and his team isn’t ready to recommend such exercise for patients just yet. But he said that regardless of the outcome of future studies, patients shouldn’t expect to be able to stop taking their medication, at least not entirely. [2]

Dalgas said:

“Phasing out drugs in favor of training is not realistic. On the other hand, the study indicates that systematic physical training can be a far more important supplement during treatment than has so far been assumed. This aspect needs to be thoroughly explored.”

That’s not to say there aren’t umpteen natural treatments for MS, including dietary changes such as the addition of omega-3 fatty acids and herbs, as well as medical marijuana, particularly THC, the plant’s psychoactive compound.


[1] Medical News Today

[2] Science Daily

[3] Healthline