Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Physical activity and associated levels of disability and quality of life in people with multiple sclerosis: a large international survey

Claudia H Marck1*, Emily J Hadgkiss1, Tracey J Weiland12, Dania M van der Meer1, Naresh G Pereira3 and George A Jelinek14

Author Affiliations

1 Emergency Practice Innovation Centre, St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, PO Box 2900, Fitzroy 3065, VIC, Australia

2 Department of Medicine, The University of Melbourne (St Vincent’s Hospital), Fitzroy, Victoria, Australia

3 Faculty of Medicine, Notre Dame University, Fremantle, Western Australia, Australia

4 Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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BMC Neurology 2014, 14:143  doi:10.1186/1471-2377-14-143

Published: 12 July 2014



Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a common neurodegenerative disease, which often has a devastating effect on physical and emotional wellbeing of people with MS (PwMS). Several studies have shown positive effects of physical activity (PA) on disability, health related quality of life (HRQOL), and other outcomes. However, many studies include only people with mild disability making it difficult to generalize findings to those with moderate or severe disability. This study investigated the associations between PA and HRQOL, relapse rate (RR), disability, and demographic variables in PwMS with varying disability.


Through online platforms this large international survey recruited 2232 participants with MS who completed items regarding PA, MS and other health characteristics.


PwMS who were younger (p < .001), male (p = 0.006), and with lower body mass index (BMI) (p < .001) undertook more PA, which was associated with decreased disability (p < 0.001) and increased HRQOL measures (all p < 0.001). For the subsample of people with relapsing-remitting MS, PA was associated with a decreased RR (p = 0.009). Regression analyses showed that increased PA predicted clinically significant improvements in HRQOL while controlling for level of disability, age and gender. More specifically, increasing from low to moderate and to high PA increased estimated mean physical health composite from 47.7 to 56.0 to 59.9 respectively (25.6% change), mental health composite from 60.6 to 67.0 to 68.8 (13.5% change), energy subscale from 35.9 to 44.5 to 49.8 (38.7% change), social function subscale from 57.8 to 66.1 to 68.4 (18.3% change), and overall QOL subscale from 58.5 to 64.5 to 67.7 (15.7% change).


For PwMS, regardless of disability level, increased PA is related to better HRQOL in terms of energy, social functioning, mental and physical health. These are important findings that should be taken into consideration by clinicians treating PwMS.

Multiple sclerosis; Exercise; Physical activity; Quality of life; Disability; Rehabilitation