Open Access Research article

Physical activity in subjects with multiple sclerosis with focus on gender differences: a survey

Elisabeth Anens1, Margareta Emtner12, Lena Zetterberg1 and Karin Hellström1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Neuroscience, Section for Physiotherapy, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden

2 Department of Medical Sciences, Respiratory Medicine and Allergology, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden

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BMC Neurology 2014, 14:47  doi:10.1186/1471-2377-14-47

Published: 10 March 2014

Abstract

Background

There is increasing research that examines gender-issues in multiple sclerosis (MS), but little focus has been placed on gender-issues regarding physical activity. The aim of the present study was to describe levels of physical activity, self-efficacy for physical activity, fall-related self-efficacy, social support for physical activity, fatigue levels and the impact of MS on daily life, in addition to investigating gender differences.

Methods

The sample for this cross-sectional cohort study consisted of 287 (84 men; 29.3%) adults with MS recruited from the Swedish Multiple Sclerosis Registry. A questionnaire was sent to the subjects consisting of the self-administrated measurements: Physical Activity Disability Survey – Revised, Exercise Self-Efficacy Scale, Falls- Efficacy Scale (Swedish version), Social Influences on Physical Activity, Fatigue Severity Scale and Multiple Sclerosis Impact Scale. Response rate was 58.2%.

Results

Men were less physically active, had lower self-efficacy for physical activity and lower fall-related self-efficacy than women. This was explained by men being more physically affected by the disease. Men also received less social support for physical activity from family members. The level of fatigue and psychological consequences of the disease were similar between the genders in the total sample, but subgroups of women with moderate MS and relapsing remitting MS experienced more fatigue than men.

Conclusions

Men were less physically active, probably a result of being more physically affected by the disease. Men being more physically affected explained most of the gender differences found in this study. However, the number of men in the subgroup analyses was small and more research is needed. A gender perspective should be considered in strategies for promoting physical activity in subjects with MS, e.g. men may need more support to be physically active.

Keywords:
Multiple sclerosis; Gender; Physical activity; Self-efficacy; Fatigue; Social support