Physical training as treatment and preventative measures

Meet Ulrik Dalgas

“Our research into physical training targeted at people with sclerosis has contributed to a paradigm shift, in which we have gone from advising against physical training in people with multiple sclerosis to now recommending it already from an early stage of the disease.”

How and to what extent can physical training help people with diseases and other health challenges? Can physical training for example help to preserve the brain intact, despite illness?

Professor Ulrik Dalgas works in the field known to professionals as clinical exercise physiology, which is about understanding how people with diseases and/or health conditions can benefit from various forms of physical training.

A low-cost treatment – with virtually no side effects

“I’m fascinated by the way physical training affects virtually all organs and tissue types in the body in a beneficial manner, often without side effects. It can be used in many disorders, in the sense that if you do the right training, you can often reduce or even completely alleviate some of the problems that the person has,” says Ulrik Dalgas.

His professional interest lies in the direction of better understanding the effect that physical training has on the brain. Researchers know surprisingly little about this at present – which is something that Ulrik Dalgas and his team would like to change.

“We examine the effect of physical training in people with diseases of the brain, e.g. people with multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease, because in these patients the brain degenerates significantly faster than in healthy people, and also these patient groups suffer from the fact that there are often no or only very limited effective medical treatment options. We also investigate whether the right training can actually reduce the speed at which the two diseases progress,” explains Ulrik Dalgas.

Together with his research colleagues, he is working to optimise the training they recommend for a number of different patient groups – it is a low-cost form of treatment, which can often be done on your own. According to Ulrik Dalgas, many patients also want to do as much as possible to fight their disease, which means that there are both societal and personal benefits associated with proper exercise programmes.

Great potential and huge ambitions

“Our vision is to become a world-leading research centre in the physical training of neurological patient groups. We have a plan on how this could be achieved, for example by including a number of our strong international partners in an innovative way. I expect spending a lot of time on this in the coming years,” says Ulrik Dalgas.

Ulrik Dalgas and his colleagues at the department were among the first to be interested in the effect of physical training on the brains of people with multiple sclerosis. This has led to publications in, amongst others, Neurology, of which he is quite proud, because they have helped to set a new direction for the research field by also including advanced imaging as outcome measures.

“However, I’m just as proud of an article I published together with a Bachelor student; a young guy who contacted me with a novel idea about the effect of sprint training on the maximal oxygen consumption. This publication is now among my most cited articles, and I’m really pleased that we pursued his idea,” says Ulrik Dalgas.

Ulrik Dalgas, born in 1976, is a human exercise physiologist and holds a Bachelor degree in Sport Science. For some years, he thought he was going to work with elite sport, and he has been employed by a Super League football club. However, by coincidence, he ended up writing a Master’s thesis about physical training after hip surgery. Here, he found that it was possible to obtain large beneficial effects in this group, if they were trained according to principles inspired by the way elite athletes train. This is how Ulrik Dalgas became very keen to pursue this particular track.