Despite pharmacological treatment, many individuals with multiple sclerosis (MS) continue to experience symptoms and medication side effects. Exercise holds promise for MS, but changes in brain structure following exercise have not been thoroughly investigated, and important cognitive and psychosocial variables are rarely primary outcomes. The aim of this pilot study was to investigate whether a 12-week exercise intervention would improve white matter integrity in the brain, or cognition, symptoms of fatigue, and depressed mood for individuals with relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS).
Thirteen participants completed 12 weeks of speeded walking. Baseline and post-intervention testing included 3T diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to assess white matter and neuropsychological testing to assess cognition, fatigue, and mood. Image pre-processing and analyses were performed in functional magnetic resonance imaging of the Brain Software Library.
Post-intervention, there were no significant changes in white matter compared to baseline. Post-intervention, individuals with RRMS performed significantly better on the Symbol Digit Modalities Test (SDMT), reported fewer perceived memory problems, and endorsed less fatigue. Performance was not significantly different on Trails or Digit Span, and there were no significant changes in reports of mood.
Although 12 weeks of speeded walking did not improve white matter integrity, exercise may hold promise for managing some symptoms of RRMS in the context of this study population.