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Aerobic walking ‘improves cognitive performance’ in MS patients

Remote walking exercise also found to be most beneficial, giving options in remote rehab

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Aerobic walking is a “feasible and highly promising” means of improving cognitive processing speed for people living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), a new study has revealed. 

In a 16-week study, aerobic walking exercise completed remotely was found to show a positive cognitive impact, and was found to be more effective than supported exercise. 

Cognitive processing speed impairment is a common symptom of MS, affecting up to 70 per cent of patients, and can lead to reduced quality of life, increased unemployment, and decreased social functioning. 

With limited effective treatments available, this Kessler Foundation study is hailed as showing new promise for people affected by this disabling symptom.

Furthermore, its potential in remote rehab is also significant, helping to open up rehabilitation through removing barriers to attending in-person exercise programmes, including transport or financial issues. 

“Our study shows that remote aerobic walking exercise training is not only feasible but also might be efficacious for treating cognitive processing speed impairment in persons with MS,” said lead author Dr Brian Sandroff, senior research scientist in the Center for Neuropsychology and Neuroscience Research at Kessler Foundation. 

“We anticipate that these findings will encourage the development of more accessible, convenient, and broad-scale exercise interventions, ultimately leading to improved quality of life for those affected by this challenging disease.”

In the study, researchers employed the Symbol Digit Modalities Test (SDMT), a widely used neuropsychological test for assessing information processing speed in individuals with MS, and the California Verbal Learning Test (CVLT-II) as a widely used test of verbal learning and memory. 

Participants were randomly assigned to 16 weeks of either remotely delivered and supported aerobic walking exercise training (intervention condition), or remotely delivered and supported stretching and range-of-motion activities (control condition). 

All were provided with wearable fitness trackers and weekly video consultations with an exercise specialist to ensure proper technique, safety, and adherence to the prescribed exercise regimen.

Results were evaluated at 16 weeks and participants who were randomly assigned into the intervention condition demonstrated strong improvements in their SDMT scores after the 16-week study period relative to participants who were randomly assigned into the stretching condition, indicating that the remotely delivered aerobic walking exercise training had a positive impact on their cognitive processing speed. 

Additionally, the study showed that the participants had high adherence rates to the exercise program, with an average of 80 per cent of the prescribed sessions being completed.

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