High Intensity Exercise in Multiple Sclerosis: Effects on Muscle Contractile Characteristics and Exercise Capacity, a Randomised Controlled Trial

PLoS One. 2015 Sep 29;10(9):e0133697. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0133697. eCollection 2015.


Introduction: Low-to-moderate intensity exercise improves muscle contractile properties and endurance capacity in multiple sclerosis (MS). The impact of high intensity exercise remains unknown.

Methods: Thirty-four MS patients were randomized into a sedentary control group (SED, n = 11) and 2 exercise groups that performed 12 weeks of a high intensity interval (HITR, n = 12) or high intensity continuous cardiovascular training (HCTR, n = 11), both in combination with resistance training. M.vastus lateralis fiber cross sectional area (CSA) and proportion, knee-flexor/extensor strength, body composition, maximal endurance capacity and self-reported physical activity levels were assessed before and after 12 weeks.

Results: Compared to SED, 12 weeks of high intensity exercise increased mean fiber CSA (HITR: +21 ± 7%, HCTR: +23 ± 5%). Furthermore, fiber type I CSA increased in HCTR (+29 ± 6%), whereas type II (+23 ± 7%) and IIa (+23 ± 6%,) CSA increased in HITR. Muscle strength improved in HITR and HCTR (between +13 ± 7% and +45 ± 20%) and body fat percentage tended to decrease (HITR: -3.9 ± 2.0% and HCTR: -2.5 ± 1.2%). Furthermore, endurance capacity (Wmax +21 ± 4%, time to exhaustion +24 ± 5%, VO2max +17 ± 5%) and lean tissue mass (+1.4 ± 0.5%) only increased in HITR. Finally self-reported physical activity levels increased 73 ± 19% and 86 ± 27% in HCTR and HITR, respectively.

Conclusion: High intensity cardiovascular exercise combined with resistance training was safe, well tolerated and improved muscle contractile characteristics and endurance capacity in MS.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01845896.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Composition
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Exercise Therapy*
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Sclerosis / therapy*
  • Muscle Contraction
  • Muscle Fibers, Skeletal
  • Muscle Strength
  • Physical Endurance
  • Treatment Outcome

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT01845896

Grants and funding

This work was supported by MS Fund, Limburg, Flanders, Belgium. Ulrik Dalgas has received research support, travel grants and/or teaching honorary from Biogen Idec, Merck Serono and Sanofi Aventis and further serves as PI for the ongoing Biogen sponsored ACTIMS study. This does not alter our adherence to Plos One policies on sharing data and materials. Furthermore, the funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.