"Stimulating or Enriching Leisure Activities" May Protect Against MS Pathology

Despite limitations, the results of a new study suggest that prospective research addressing the question of reserve-related activities in patients with MS should be pursued.

Reserve-related activities, such as stimulating or enriching leisure activities, may provide some protection against the pathology of multiple sclerosis, according to a recent study. Published in BMC Neurology, the study was conducted by Carolyn Schwartz, FNP, MSN, of the DeltaQuest Foundation, and Tufts University, and colleagues.

The researchers state their aim in conducting the study as being “To examine whether past and current reserve-related activities make the brain less susceptible to MS pathology (i.e., lesions or disease-related atrophy).” They note that recent studies have shown that stimulating leisure activities appear to have a protective or buffering effect, adding “high reserve individuals showed a slower disability progression over six years of semi-annual follow-up.”

This study, a secondary analysis using information from an on-going prospective study on risk factors in MS at the State University of New York at Buffalo with over 1000 participants with MS, clinically isolated syndrome (CIS), or healthy controls. For this study, “All subjects were assessed with a structured epidemiologic questionnaire administered in-person by a trained interviewer unaware of the subjects’ disease status,” say the authors.

The findings were somewhat unclear. Strenuous activity seemed to be associated with better MRI results. However, a closer examination of the results showed that only held true for patients who participated in strenuous activity both before diagnoses and were participating in it currently. “People who engaged in running before and after diagnosis, rather than only before or never, had higher Maximal Lifetime Brain Growth.”

However, the authors caution that there are limitations that must be taken into consideration when interpreting the results of this study. “First, this is an observational study that investigates a research question that has not been addressed before,” they say. There was no a priori hypothesis, nor what comparisons they would need to make, and those factors may have impacted the statistical analysis. “Further, because the data are cross-sectional, they may suffer from biases associated with retrospective self-report,” they add. Other limitations, such as a lack of assessment of the participants’ neurocognitive status, exist.

Even with those limitations, the results of this study suggest that prospective research addressing the question of reserve-related activities in patients with MS should be pursued. “We believe that the findings of the present study build on a growing evidence base that should encourage people with MS to maintain their engagement in a range of strenuous stimulating activities to promote health and prevent progression,” the researchers conclude.