Multiple sclerosis: To the limitSport not only improves memory and concentration, it apparently also stabilizes the immune system. People with MS also benefit from this, as a new study by scientists from the German Sports University shows. With a certain training method they achieve particularly amazing results.
Researchers at the German Sport University Cologne want to better understand how sport affects multiple sclerosis. In a first study they examined MS-specific markers in the blood serum of test persons, which indicate an inflammatory activity in the brain. The nerve-damaging inflammations are triggered in part by misdirected immune cells that enter the brain from the bloodstream and attack the protective layer of the brain cells. It turns out that regular exercise makes the protective blood-brain barrier less permeable to damaging immune cells.
In the current study, the researchers go one step further. "We use blood samples to measure whether inflammation actually decreases after a period of training," says Dr. Dr. Philipp Zimmer, sports physician at the German Sport University Cologne. For this, his lab team counts regulatory T immune cells in the blood. They keep the immune system under control. An earlier study with healthy participants had shown that endurance training with sprints built in increased the number of regulatory T cells. The researchers are now building on these clues.
Full throttle on the ergometer
The central element of the new study is high-intensity interval training on a bicycle ergometer. Cologne researchers have studied the effect on 57 MS patients in the Valens rehabilitation clinics in Switzerland. Half of the patients gave three days in the week within a half hour three to five times for in each case a minute full throttle – so long, until 95 per cent of the maximum heart frequency were reached. The other half of the test subjects cycled for half an hour a day at a moderate pace. All blood samples are currently being evaluated in the Cologne laboratory of the sports university. The results should be available in the first half of 2020.
The first positive effects can already be observed, says the sports scientist Dr. Jens Bansi, who supervised the study participants at the Valens clinics: "In interval training, all group members improved their condition more significantly than the moderate athletes within three weeks. They were also more motivated because each training session brought them new progress."The initial experience with MS patients fits in with the general state of knowledge, says Bansi: "We know from studies with athletes that intensive interval training can achieve around 20 percent more power buildup in half the training time."If you train like this, you get more out of interval training a few times a week than from moderate endurance sports once a day.
Unwanted side effects did not occur in the course of the study, emphasizes the chief neurologist of the clinics Valens, Dr. Roman Gonzenbach: "So far, the high-intensity interval training has not triggered any relapse and no patient has experienced a worsening of MS."
Leave the comfort zone
Is the Power-Training generally recommended for people with MS?? Jens Bansi says that there is no general answer to this question. Whether the training runs successfully, depends on many factors. The incentive of a trainer proved to be very effective in the study – he challenged the test persons to go to their performance limits. Even with programmed fitness wristbands (wearables) and online coaching, quite good successes can be achieved at first, says the sports scientist, but experience shows that motivation and performance decline after a few weeks.
Even without a fixed sports program, you can do a lot for a stable immune system, says Jens Bansi. It is important to challenge oneself physically in everyday life again and again. For example, marching as fast as possible for a minute while walking, climbing stairs or getting out of breath on the exercise bike. A total of 150 minutes of physical activity per week should be accumulated. Only an acute relapse is a reason not to train.
It is important to start early
Exclusively about the longer-term benefits of high-intensity interval training is another study from the Cologne Sports University. The suitability of such a program for everyday use was also put to the test. For three months, around 80 MS patients go to selected Cologne fitness studios. In addition to power training, it also does strength building exercises. Your inflammation markers are checked regularly. "We assume that an early start to training, preferably directly after diagnosis, can stop or at least slow down the progression of the disease," says study leader Philipp Zimmer. Whether his hypothesis is confirmed, the laboratory results will show. A publication is expected in the fall at the earliest.
An online survey is currently being conducted at the German Sport University. Philipp Zimmer wants to know from people with MS what symptoms and limitations they have and how much they exercise. The information should – in anonymous form – complement the results of the new studies. Participants are still being sought for the survey. Anyone who would like to participate can request the questionnaire by e-mailing [email protected]