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MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS
NEWS

Could Walking on the Treadmill Have Cognitive Benefits for People With MS?

Posted on January 19, 2022
Medically reviewed by
Evelyn O. Berman, M.D.
Article written by
Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

  • Multiple sclerosis (MS) can affect part of the brain called the hippocampus, decreasing brain volume and damaging learning and memory functions.
  • Treadmill-walking could have potential benefits in preserving hippocampal volume and improving cognition for people with MS, according to a recent study.

People with MS working to strengthen cognitive functions, such as learning and memory, may reap greater benefits from walking on a treadmill than from stretching and toning, according to a recent study.

Researchers investigated the effects of treadmill-walking on the hippocampus — a critical brain area for cognition — for people with relapsing-remitting MS. One target of MS is the hippocampus. Damage to this brain area can reduce its size and damage functions in learning and memory.

Before and after completing 12 weeks of either treadmill walking or a low-intensity exercise, study participants underwent a series of neuropsychological tests to look at learning and memory function. The researchers found that people who walked on a treadmill showed greater verbal learning and memory improvement than those who did not.

For the study, participants also underwent brain scans, allowing researchers to observe any changes in hippocampal volume before and after the 12-week exercise regimen.

The researchers had hypothesized that, after walking on a treadmill, participants would see improvements in their learning and memory, as well as to their hippocampal volume. However, the team found the hippocampal volume remained the same. People who did low-intensity exercise, such as stretching, showed decreased hippocampal volume.

“The most surprising aspect was that hippocampal volume was preserved in the walking exercise group compared with hippocampal atrophy in the stretching group,” said lead author Dr. Brian Sandroff, senior research scientist at the Kessler Foundation, in comments to MyMSTeam.

Dr. Sandroff said the planned sample size for the trial was 40, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, only 11 people with MS could participate. Having a small sample size for the study may have thwarted the researchers’ ability to view any significant changes in hippocampal volume.

Though the study was small in scope, all participants had preexisting learning and memory issues, suggesting treadmill-walking may be a potential intervention for declining cognition.

Learn more strategies for enhancing cognitive abilities with MS.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Evelyn O. Berman, M.D. is a neurology and pediatric specialist and treats disorders of the brain in children. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about her here.
Jocelyn Solis-Moreira is a journalist covering health and science. She received a graduate degree in psychology concentrating on behavioral neuroscience. Learn more about her here.

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