HIIT training in MS

Are you into HIIT? 

Mult Scler Relat Disord. 2018 Jun 13;24:55-63. doi: 10.1016/j.msard.2018.06.005. [Epub ahead of print]

High intensity interval training for people with multiple sclerosis: A systematic review.

Campbell E, Coulter EH, Paul L.


Aerobic high intensity interval training (HIIT) is safe in the general population and more efficient in improving fitness than continuous moderate intensity training. The body of literature examining HIIT in multiple sclerosis (MS) is expanding but to date a systematic review has not been conducted. The aim of this review was to investigate the efficacy and safety of HIIT in people with MS.


A systematic search was carried out in September 2017 in EMBASE, MEDline, PEDro, CENTRAL and Web of Science Core collections using appropriate keywords and MeSH descriptors. Reference lists of relevant articles were also searched. Articles were eligible for inclusion if they were published in English, used HIIT, and included participants with MS. Quality was assessed using the PEDro scale. The following data were extracted using a standardised form: study design and characteristics, outcome measures, significant results, drop-outs, and adverse events.


Seven studies (described by 11 articles) were identified: four randomised controlled trials, one randomised cross-over trial and two cohort studies. PEDro scores ranged from 3 to 8. Included participants (n = 249) were predominantly mildly disabled; one study included only people with progressive MS. Six studies used cycle ergometry and one used arm ergometry to deliver HIIT. One study reported six adverse events, four which could be attributed to the intervention. The other six reported that there were no adverse events. Six studies reported improvements in at least one outcome measure, however there were 60 different outcome measures in the seven studies. The most commonly measured domain was fitness, which improved in five of the six studies measuring aspects of fitness. The only trial not to report positive results included people with progressive and a more severe level of disability (Extended Disability Status Scale 6.0-8.0).


HIIT appears to be safe and effective in increasing fitness in people with MS and low levels of disability. Further research is required to explore the effectiveness of HIIT in people with progressive MS and in those with higher levels of disability.

Figure: Arm crank (a) and cycle ergometry

I’ve been looking into different types of exercise since starting my training for the Three Peaks Challenge. On balance, all forms of exercise appear to be beneficial for cardiovascular fitness. From a personal perspective, my Asian genetic background makes me a sitting duck for heart disease; so prevention is on my list of priorities. Recently, a new type of physical fitness has entered into the exercise world – that of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) work outs. In MS, where fatigue is a major problem HIIT may have a role to play. It allows PwMS to exercise at higher intensities, whilst avoiding the thermosensitive responses (Uhthoff’s phenomenon).

So what is HIIT?

It is short bursts of high intensity exercise. They typically last 20min of 4-6 cycles of 80-95% maximal effort lasting 1-4min working in rests between the bursts. Compared to continuous moderate intensity training, HIIT is better at improving VO2 max (the maximum amount of oxygen that a person can use during high intensity workouts).

In this article, Campbell et al. review the efficacy of HIIT in MS. They performed a search in various publication database of all articles that referenced HIIT from 2017 onwards. There were 11 articles of acceptable quality, four of which were randomized control trials. In majority a cycle ergometer was used (an alternative to the treadmill in those who are unable to weight bear).

All baring one study revealed improvements in either peak VO2 or VO2 max in MS. There was also improvements in peak power after exercise or following a couple of sessions – this is felt to be due to positive outcome on muscle contractile characteristics. In terms of adverse events, only one study reported knee or leg pain whilst cycling, but overall it was felt to be safe and an effective way of improving fitness in MS.

So what’s stopping you?

About the author

Neuro Doc Gnanapavan


  • I am currently trying to develop a HIIT programme for myself, after spending six months improving my strength and ensuring my cardiovascular system is ok.

    I am middle-aged, EDSS 6.5 and with balance issues, hadn't exercised for 10 years (since diagnosis) but loving getting fit again and want to lose the visceral fat.

    There is a need for expert guidance about how to develop an individual HIIT plan for PwMS.

  • High-intensity interval exercise improves
    cognitive performance and reduces matrix
    metalloproteinases-2 serum levels in persons
    with multiple sclerosis: A randomized
    controlled trial

    DOI: 10.1177/

    Aerobic exercise resulted in 16.5% increase in hippocampal volume and
    53.7% increase in memory, as well as increased hippocampal resting-state functional connectivity. Improvements
    were specific, with no comparable changes in overall cerebral gray matter (+2.4%), non-hippocampal deep gray
    matter structures (thalamus, caudate: −4.0%), or in non-memory cognitive functioning (executive functions, processing
    speed, working memory: changes ranged from −11% to +4%). Non-aerobic exercise resulted in relatively
    no change in hippocampal volume (2.8%) or memory (0.0%), and no changes in hippocampal functional connectivity.
    This is the first evidence for aerobic exercise to increase hippocampal volume and connectivity and improve
    memory in multiple sclerosis. Aerobic exercise represents a cost-effective, widely available, natural, and self-administered
    treatment with no adverse side effects that may be the first effective memory treatment for multiple sclerosis

    Aerobic exercise increases hippocampal volume and
    improves memory in multiple sclerosis: Preliminary



  • love HIIT, have been on it for the past 6 months. for those who need to be seated or in a chair- can be easily adapted. use ergometer at gym for arms and motomed both for arms an/or leg .i use a 8:12 pattern . 8 seconds flat as then 12 seconds gentle reps. challenge is to build up the number of minutes you can do it for.

  • I’m going through a renaissance of improved health and HIIT is part of the answer. I’ve locked onto something manageable and exciting . Diagnosed 38 years ago, MS churned through my well being long enough. Greatly improved physicality has proven to be endlessly beneficial. Good luck to everyone.

  • I remain committed to a regular Hiit routine. I use a Bowflex Max Trainer to the average of 5 (15 minute sessions) times a week. It has only made me stronger both physically and mentally . The benefits are endless.
    The enemy (MS) has gone into an unblievable 20 year remmission. There are some unmistakable MS symtoms but, for the most part the MS has gone into a most welcomed benign state, I was diagnosed nearly 40 years ago. During the first 10 years, the disease unleashed a catastrophic spin on my life. At this moment I’m so very happy and will do all possible to keep the MS monster away from me. I wish you all the very best.



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