How Did COVID-19 Affect Physical Activity in Patients With Multiple Sclerosis?

Researchers sought to investigate the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on physical activity in patients with MS.

Moderate and high intensity physical activity has decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic among people with multiple sclerosis (MS), according to study findings published in the journal Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

Physical activity is associated with physical and mental beneficial outcomes among people with MS. During the COVID-19 pandemic, restrictions caused many programs and rehabilitation services to transition to virtual platforms. It remains unclear what effect this shift has had on physical activity in the setting of MS.

For this study, people with MS were asked to respond to an electronic survey by physiotherapists and researchers from 11 countries in Eurasia in 2021. The survey comprised 74 questions about physical activity and took approximately 30 minutes to complete.

A total of 3725 responses were included in this analysis.

Fewer participants endorsed engaging in physical activity during the pandemic (75%) compared with before the pandemic (83%; P <.001). Similarly, the intensity of physical activity changed during the pandemic (χ2, 36.22; P <.0001). The proportion of individuals engaging in high (5.99% vs 9.23%) and moderate (27.98% vs 35.5%) activity decreased but not the proportion of individuals engaging in light activity (10.5% vs 10.9%).

Among the 16 listed activities, significant changes to home exercise programs (change, +6%), walking (change, +6%), exercising at the gym (change, -7%), and exercising in the water (change, -3%) were reported (χ2, 379.27; P <.0001).

The most frequent motivations for starting an activity were: public health messaging (14%), more time for physical activity due to decreased socializing and shopping (6%), more time for physical activity due to the elimination of commuting to work (6%), more structure or routines during the day (6%), and more family and friends supporting their physical activity (5%). The most common motivations for decreasing or stopping an activity were: venue closure (12%), restrictions (9%), fear of COVID-19 (7%), MS symptoms (6%), decreased motivation (5%), and class cancelation (5%).

Among the individuals who reported engaging physical activity (n=2756), 44% said they did not want to change their physical activity habits after restrictions were removed and 22% were unsure. Among the individuals who were active prior to the pandemic but not during the pandemic (n=928), 24% did not want to change their physical activity habits after restrictions were removed and 44% were unsure.

This study may have been biased, as over half of the sample (n=2218) was sourced from a single country (Norway).

“PA [physical activity] performance, especially activities at moderate and high intensities, decreased during the pandemic in PwMS [persons with MS] compared to pre-pandemic,” the researchers stated. They proposed a call to action to develop physical activity interventions aimed at the MS community.


Moumdjian L, Smedal T, Arntzen EC, et al. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on physical activity and associated technology use in persons with multiple sclerosis: an international RIMS-SIG Mobility survey study. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. Published online June 24, 2022. doi:10.1016/j.apmr.2022.06.001