ALERT Mobilit y
effects of exercise
by William A. Anthony, PhD
Over 50 years ago, when I was a young child, my
Uncle Charles died from a very progressive case
of MS. His brother (my father) later told me that
Charles was advised never to exercise as that would
worsen his MS and hasten its downward course.
In contrast, when my own increasingly troubling
neurological symptoms were officially diagnosed
as MS, I enrolled in my hometown Y in Reading, Mass., with the blessing of my health-care
team, and I soon became a regular participant in
strength training and aerobic exercise.
However, I still had a burning question. Was
this new thinking about exercise based on actual
research, or was it just well-meaning advice,
like the kind my Uncle Charles unfortunately
Some professional background
I direct a research and training center at Boston
University that has a grant from the National
Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research
to systematically review and disseminate research
The formal research
Anthony and colleagues Gidugu, Rogers, Maru,
Mizock and Farkas performed a systematic
review of the effects of exercise and physical
activity on psychosocial outcomes and quality
of life outcomes for individuals with multiple
sclerosis, under the auspices of a grant funded
by the National Institute on Disability and
Rehabilitation Research (Grant #H133A05006).
They examined the literature for the period
1996–2011. Technical assistance was provided
by the National MS Society and Dr. Charles
Bombardier at the MS Rehabilitation Research
and Training Center at University of Washington.
Does exercise have a proven positive
impact on mood or emotions in
people with MS? The author has
personal and professional reasons to
examine the evidence.
findings on topics of interest to people with
various disabilities and their respective advocacy
organizations. One of these, suggested by the
National Multiple Sclerosis Society, was a review
of the science behind the assertions of people with
MS (including myself) that exercise was helping
us psychologically as well as physically.
So what does the research show?
Our reviews show that exercise interventions for
people with mild to moderate MS can positively
affect mood and quality of life. (See “The formal
research.”) We folks with MS are very like our
non-disabled peers. But in some ways we are different, especially with respect to exercise barriers.
Psychological benefits that I see personally
I am a 68-year-old male with secondary progressive MS, and I have been exercising because it is
an initiative I can take to gain some control over
this unpredictable, inexorably progressive disease
of mine. Over time I may be losing the battle
physically in certain areas, but I still feel I’m in
charge when it comes to exercising. Exercise is one
of the things I can do, as opposed to many things
that are done to me.
I often trade stories with a “Y friend” about our
mutual commitment to exercise. Susan Broussard,
age 59, was diagnosed with relapsing-remitting
MS 12 years ago. I had noticed that she was using
a cane at the Y and I suspected she might have
MS. Once we discovered we were both members
of “the MS community,” we began a routine of
checking in on how each of us is doing. I asked
Susan to comment on exercise in her life.