U.Va. researcher shares
benefits of exercise for people with MS
Lisa Eorio, a researcher with the Nursing School's Southeastern
Rural Mental Health Center, works out at the McCue Center,
the University's Athletic Training/Sports Medicine department,
aided by its director Joe Gieck. Eorio, who has MS, is sitting
on the large rubber ball to improve balance while lifting
not going to let this stop me from finishing my degree,"
U.Va. research scientist Lisa Eorio remembers think- ing when
multiple sclerosis hit her hard 10 years ago in the middle of
graduate school. After getting her master's in economics, she
continued in sociology and earned her Ph.D. from the University
in 1976 at the age of 21, Eorio was relatively symptom-free during
her first 10 years with MS. But by 1990, her condition worsened,
and she began to experience weakness in her arms, hands and legs,
as well as mental and physical exhaustion.
deteriorating physical condition prompted her doctor at U.Va.'s
department to recommend physical therapy. She has maintained an
exercise program, which she believes has been key to managing
her MS symptoms and enabling her to continue her education and
advance her career. She now works as a research scientist for
the Nursing School's Southeastern Rural Mental Health Center.
feels so strongly about the value of exercise in battling MS that
she coordinated a specialized program for others with the disease.
In April, she received a grant from Berlex Laboratories to offer
the program for free.
credits the University's
Athletic Training/Sports Medicine department, and especially
its director, Joe Gieck, for providing her with the support needed
to keep up her fitness program. "Joe made me feel welcome
there and taught me a lot," she said.
"I have seen friends with MS lose function, not wholly from
progression in the disease process, but also from lack of activity,"
Eorio said. "I have had the good fortune of learning about
and experiencing the benefits of a regular exercise program, and
I want to help others with MS by providing them with this invaluable
one's condition, maximizing the function you do have is helpful
in managing the symptoms," she said, adding that physical
therapy research has shown the benefits of exercise for people
is one of six recipients of this year's "Champions of Courage"
grants, a program offered by the company that makes Betaseron,
the first drug approved about five years ago for treating MS.
(Since then, several other medications have come out.) With her
grant, Eorio has organized a fitness course for others with MS.
Thirteen people signed up, including one other person who works
at U.Va., and some had to be turned away, she said.
the 12 twice-weekly sessions, which began May 2, participants
and their partners receive personalized support from a team of
physical therapists, athletic trainers and a sports psychologist,
as well as each other. Videotapes of the sessions and exercise
equipment are also provided free of charge to participants. Significant
others are included because they are such a big influence, she
This isn't the only effort Eorio has made to help others with
MS. She started a support group seven years ago that still meets
twice a month. She also started an aquatics exercise class, partially
funded by the Multiple Sclerosis Society, when U.Va.'s Aquatics
and Fitness Center opened four years ago. People with MS, as well
as others in rehabilitation after injury, exercise in water that's
about 77degrees -- cooler than the typical in-door pool, because
the body works more efficiently at that temperature.
origin of MS is unknown, but Eorio said one current hypothesis
attributes it to a virus prevalent in northern climates that children
get before the age of 11. Symptoms, however, don't start showing
up until one's mid- to late-20s.
sclerosis, which afflicts up to 350,000 people in the U.S., is
a disease that randomly attacks the central nervous system, affecting
the pathways within the brain and spinal cord. Much like wires
within an electrical cord or a telephone cable, the pathways are
normally protected with a covering of insulation, allowing messages
from the central nervous system to be transmitted quickly and
clearly. In MS, that insulation, called myelin, gets damaged in
scattered areas. Scarring develops in those places, disrupting
the flow of messages, which in turn, causes the symptoms of MS.
person with MS has a relapse when the disease attacks some area
of the central nervous system. In addition to feeling physical
and mental fatigue, one's muscular strength and coordination,
balance, sensation and vision can be affected, depending on which
areas of the central nervous system are damaged. No cure exists
-- "yet," says the optimistic Eorio.