Banish Cog Fog

This MS news will knock you off your feet.
By the end of this blog post, some of you are really going to hate me. I won’t take it personally. After all, there is some good news with the bad news. Sorta like hearing that you get free hot dogs (yeah!) … but that you have to eat a dozen of them, buns and all, in ten minutes. Clearly, if your name is not Joey Chestnut (his record is 70), you might be in big trouble. And if you can manage to gag them all down, it’s gonna hurt bigly.

Long story short, last month more research was released investigating the benefits of high intensity interval training (HIIT) and multiple sclerosis. In the randomized clinical trial, MS researchers pitted high intensity cardio exercise (3x per week for 20 minutes with five 3-minute exercise intervals at 80% of peak oxygen uptake) against a traditional exercise program (5x per week for 30 minutes at a constant 65% effort).

Some of the results were predictable. Both parties, 60 MS volunteers in total, saw “significant” benefit with executive functions, even though the trial was only three weeks long. Fantastic! But then researchers found that the benefits of the two exercise programs diverged dramatically. Compared to conventional training, only HIIT “significantly improved verbal memory” among participants.

You're gonna have to sweat.
(Additionally, “secondary outcomes indicated significant improvements in peak oxygen uptake—VO2-peak—and a significant reduction in matrix metalloproteinases—MMP-2” also in the HIIT group only. I would need to go to med school to find out exactly what this all means, but it sounds hella promising even if I don’t know how to pronounce it.)

How many approved medications are out there to improve cognitive performance in MS? Zero. How many dietary supplements have been shown to aid cognition in MSers? Zero. How many types of exercise routines have been shown—in study after study after study—to reduce cog fog in MS? One.

And this is where the total suckage of this post settles into focus. Brisk walking, cleaning your house, yoga, mowing your lawn, striding on your elliptical, Sunday bike rides with your kids, leisurely laps in the pool, even spirited bedroom escapades (go crazy, gang!) are all fine and dandy for your health and your MS. Do these activities. But unless you are seriously rocking the cardio, none of these efforts are going to significantly improve or protect your cognitive function with this disease.

Channel your favorite GOT bad ass.
As most of you are aware, cognitive issues are among the most disabling of all MS symptoms (along with fatigue, which researchers have found may also decrease with HIIT, but that is for another post). Problems with memory, attention, comprehension, reasoning, decision making, and more can be devastating and not only can lead to a forced early retirement, but also can affect relationships, the ability to drive safely, or the capacity to follow all the characters and plotlines in Game of Thrones. (Okay, trying to put all the pieces together in GOT is mostly hopeless no matter how well your brain works…I just threw that in for a test.)

Now before you charge forward and embark on a serious HIIT routine, talk to your doctor or neuro first. Better yet, also see a trainer and get hands-on instruction. When you do this, you need to do it right. And know that it is not going to be easy, but at least each session is going to be over with fast.

Jump in with abandon. No regrets.
Keeping your brain healthy is a big deal. No, a huge deal. Wait, wait, more of a HUGE FRIGGIN MEGA DEAL. And you have the power to do something about it, a rarity with this disease when many of our arrows, frustratingly, seem to fall just short. Take advantage of this opportunity. Don’t delay. Jump in and get started. You and that magnificent brain of yours will not regret it.