NARCOMS and Wellness

          Research on MS general health and wellness covers a wide range of topics. Some studies focus on emotional well-being, decreasing or managing depression, and other research is centered on things that people living with MS can do to improve wellness. This includes: changing diet, increasing physical activity, and quitting smoking. To find out if lifestyle changes have a long-term benefit for MS, studies need to follow many participants over many years. NARCOMS is well-suited to do studies on these topics, especially since from the outset, NARCOMS participants have contributed to multiple research projects about wellness and lifestyle factors. Here is a sampling of these projects.


The Impact of Exercise and Physical Activity

         The first study to show the benefits of exercise for MS was in 1996, around the same NARCOMS began. The “Impact of aerobic training on fitness and quality of life in multiple sclerosis,” published in the Annals of Neurology, showed that exercise can improve general health but also helps with MS- specific symptoms like fatigue.


         In a 2008 publication, “Fatigue characteristics in multiple sclerosis: the NARCOMS survey,” chronic fatigue was reported by 74% of the 9,205 NARCOMS respondents. Twenty seven percent of participants reported use of an exercise program to treat fatigue. Other treatment strategies included physical and occupational therapy and symptomatic medications.  The researchers, led by Olympia Hadjimichael, PhD, suggested that “fatigue should be evaluated routinely” and that various treatments, including exercise and medication, should be considered with any MS care plan.


            In a 2010 publication, “Impact of loss of mobility on instrumental activities of daily living and socioeconomic status in patients with MS,” 8,180 NARCOMS participants reported an association between reduced mobility, reduced employment rates, and reduced income. Lead author Amber Salter, PhD, and colleagues stressed, “the importance of early assessment and treatment of decreases in mobility to preserve QOL (quality of life)” and that “managed exercise, and pharmacologic therapies targeting specific factors contributing to reduced mobility, such as spasticity, fatigue and pain, may be beneficial.”


Get Moving with MS

  • You do not have to spend hours in a gym or on a treadmill to get the benefits of exercise.  Some programs to consider:

  • Water aerobics or swimming

  • Low-impact strength training

  • Movement activities like Yoga, Tai Chi, or Pilates can all be adapted for different ability levels

  • Cardio workouts can be done inside, outside, and seated

  • If you are affected by heat, remember to keep exercise areas cool, drink plenty of cool drinks, or break up your exercise into smaller time amounts with rest.

  • As always, start by consulting your healthcare provider or physical therapist to learn about what activities might be best for you. For more information visit the National MS Society webpage:


          The most recent publication, in 2016, “Social Cognitive Correlates of Physical Activity in Black Individuals With Multiple Sclerosis” by Dominique Kinnett-Hopkins and Robert Motl, PhD reported that research should also “consider sociodemographic and cultural differences” to improve and increase physical activity in different populations. While this study involved a relatively small number of NARCOMS participants (387), it was the first study to examine racial differences in physical activity.