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Can Cooling Affect Exercise for Those with MS?

By Lois Baker

Release Date: October 31, 2005

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Aerobic exercise is thought to help persons with multiple sclerosis fight fatigue, the most common symptom of the disease. Yet as the body heats up during exercise, it compromises the ability of people with MS to exercise and they become fatigued sooner.

New research at UB will investigate if cooling the body before or during exercise allows persons with MS to exercise longer, and which method is most effective. The study also will determine the effects of a 12-week aerobic exercise program on fitness, core and skin temperature, and heat flux in MS patients.

The study is funded by a $449,999 grant from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, U.S. Dept. of Education.

"Exercise is good for MS, but it must be done correctly," said lead investigator Nadine Fisher, Ed.D., clinical associate professor of rehabilitation science in the UB School of Public Health and Health Professions. Carl Granger, M.D., UB professor of rehabilitation science, is co-investigator.

"Exercise can build up strength and endurance, reduce depression and increase physical activity levels," she said. "We are trying to find out how to reduce the exercise limitations MS places on people."

The study will involve 60 persons with MS and will be conducted in two phases. During the first phase, which will comprise four weeks, each participant will exercise under a different cooling condition each week to determine how different cooling methods affect exercise performance, core and skin temperature and heat flux.

The conditions are no cooling; cooling before exercise by wearing a specially designed, temperature-controlled cooling vest; cooling during exercise while wearing the vest, and cooling using a method of their choosing other than the vest.

Before each condition, participants will swallow a "temperature pill" (ingestible thermal monitoring system), a plastic, vitamin-pill-sized sensor developed for NASA that transmits temperature readings to an external monitor as it travels through the body.

During the 12-week second phase, participants will be assigned randomly to one of three groups: an aerobic exercise program with cooling, an aerobic exercise program without cooling, or no exercise, which will serve as the control group. The program will be conducted three days a week for an hour, with built-in rest periods. The control group will be contacted by phone every two weeks to provide social interaction with the patients.

Fisher said she hopes to show that cooling can help persons with MS increase their exercise capacity, and that an aerobic exercise program can improve their functioning and fitness levels.

"Positive results of our study would lead to a better understanding of the possibilities of cooling treatment and exercise rehabilitation for these individuals so that they can safely become more physically active," said Fisher.

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