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Should exercise supplement medicine for older people with multiple sclerosis?

A new study at Aarhus University aims to clarify whether intense strength training protects the nerve and muscle system of older multiple sclerosis patients and thereby delay disease progression. The research is supported by TrygFonden.

Can hours spent sweating in the gym suppress symptoms or even arrest the progression of the disease in older people with multiple sclerosis? A new research study from Aarhus University will help to find out.

The study builds on a previous study from 2018 which showed that when used as a supplement to traditional medical treatment, systematic and intense strength training suppresses symptoms and disease progression by protecting the nervous system of sclerosis patients. This time the focal point is the older part of these patients, and as the head of the new study Ulrik Dalgas – who is a sports science researcher at the Department of Public Health at Aarhus University – explains, there is a good reason for this.

“One third of all people suffering from multiple sclerosis are sixty years or above, and yet we know very little about how the disease develops in the elderly. Nonetheless, the level of research interest in this particular group has been very limited," says Ulrik Dalgas, who is being assisted by Post doc Lars Hvid from the Section for Sport Science in the project.

Two years ago, the research group documented that the brain of people with multiple sclerosis appear to shrink less if they do regular and targeted strength training. Furthermore, the study showed that smaller areas in the brains of the patients who trained actually grew. The results are so encouraging that Ulrik Dalgas has positive expectations for the new research project.

“In this study our focus is on the older people’s speed of movement, because the ability to create muscle power quickly is vital for maintaining balance or even simply being active in day-to-day life. It’s precisely this movement velocity that people with multiple sclerosis lose faster than others,” he says.

It is hoped the study will also document that the training gives a healthier brain that benefits cognitive functions.

“If intense strength training can optimise the brains of older people with multiple sclerosis, then it’s not just about quality of life for the individual person and their relatives. This is also knowledge that has potential health-economic implications."


About the study

  • TrygFonden supports the project with DKK 986,379. In addition, Aarhus University is also providing DKK 550,000 and the Danish Multiple Sclerosis Society DKK 150,000.
  • Sixty participants with multiple sclerosis are randomised into two groups who either undergo 24 weeks of strength training or serve as control. Participants have their physical, cognitive and nerve-muscle functions tested and are given a brain scan. In addition, the results from multiple sclerosis patients are compared with similar results from healthy people.
  • The results of the study are expected in mid-2020.



Associate professor Ulrik Dalgas
Aarhus University, Department of Public Health – Section for Sport Science
Mobile: (+45) 4012 3039

Postdoc Lars Hvid
Aarhus University, Department of Public Health – Section for Sport Science
Mobile: (+45) 9350 8717