Aerobic exercise (AEx) has many potential benefits; however, it is unknown whether individuals with multiple sclerosis (MS) can attain the optimal intensity and duration to harness its effects. Forced-rate exercise (FE) is a novel paradigm in which the voluntary pedaling rate during cycling is supplemented to achieve a higher exercise intensity. The aim of this pilot trial was to investigate the feasibility and initial efficacy of a 12-week FE or voluntary exercise (VE) cycling intervention for individuals with MS.


Twenty-two participants with MS (Expanded Disability Severity Scale [EDSS] 2.0-6.5) were randomly assigned to FE (n = 12) or VE (n = 10), each with twice weekly 45-minute sessions at a prescribed intensity of 60% to 80% of maximum heart rate (HR).


Eighteen individuals (FE = 11; VE = 7) completed the intervention, however, adaptations were required in both groups to overcome barriers to cycling. Overall, participants exercised for an average of 42.2 ± 2.3 minutes at an aerobic intensity of 65% ± 7% of maximum HR and a pedaling cadence of 67.3 ± 13.3 RPM. Cycling led to improved treadmill walking speed (0.61 to 0.68 m/sec, P = .010), with somewhat greater improvement with FE compared to VE (increase of 0.09 vs 0.03 m/s, respectively, P = .17) post intervention. Notably, the participant with the highest disability level (EDSS 6.5) tolerated FE but not VE.


Aerobic exercise is feasible for individuals with MS, although those with increased disability may require novel paradigms such as FE to achieve targeted intensity. Further trials are warranted to investigate the effects of FE across the MS disability spectrum.

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