Short bouts of moderate exercise – such as walking or steady cycling – can improve energy levels among people suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS), research suggests.
Patients said they had an improved quality of life and suffered less fatigue after taking part in exercise sessions lasting just a few minutes at a time.
In a 12-week programme, 60 patients undertook short periods of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise in 18 supervised and 18 home-based exercise sessions.
The sessions involved five three-minute bouts of exercise, with two minutes of rest in between each bout.
As the study progressed, patients were encouraged to exercise for longer – such as five four-minute bouts – or to take shorter rest periods.
Many patients also did muscle strengthening and balance exercises and were taught cognitive behavioural techniques, such as setting goals and understanding the benefits of exercise.
The results were compared with 60 MS patients receiving usual NHS care who were not told to take specific exercise.
Researchers found that people on the moderate-intensity programme reported improved fatigue levels and had better quality of life for up to nine months.
People said they had improved emotional wellbeing, social function and better overall quality of life compared with the other group.
The study, carried out by Professor John Saxton from the University of East Anglia, also found the programme to be cost effective compared with usual NHS care.
Funded by the MS Society, the research was published in the Multiple Sclerosis Journal.
Professor Saxton said: ‘It seems illogical to turn to exercise as a way of managing fatigue, but the results showed that a pragmatic programme based on short bouts of moderate-intensity exercise can really help people improve symptoms and quality of life.
‘Exercise can also offer social interaction – walking with friends, bike riding with the family – there’s a lot to gain.’
Ed Holloway, head of care and services research at the MS Society, said: ‘We’re delighted that this study has shown how a well-designed exercise programme can be a cost-effective way to help manage some of the symptoms of MS.
‘Fatigue in MS is an incredibly common but troubling symptom that can hugely affect an individual’s quality of life. For many people with MS this programme could be a cost effective treatment option.’
More than 100,000 people in the UK have MS, which is usually diagnosed when people are in their 20s and 30s.
MS affects almost three times more women than men.