Get moving! The benefits of exercise for people living with MS
Exercise may help with building strength and improving your mood.1 If you are living with relapsing multiple sclerosis (MS), you may be concerned about having enough energy, stamina or coordination to exercise. Fortunately, there are many different ways to get exercise and different types of exercise that suit a variety of fitness levels and physical abilities. Before beginning any exercise regimen, talk to your health care professional about developing a program that's right for you.
Where to begin—talk to your health care professional
Your doctor can suggest an exercise program based on your individual situation. He or she may make recommendations on types of exercises, and on intensity and duration of workouts. You may also be referred to a physical therapist or other professional who can help customize a program for you.
With your health care professional's clearance, you may want to check out programs at your local gym, community center or MS chapter. Visit the National MS Society for more information or to find a chapter near you.
Things to consider
It may help to ask yourself some questions before you begin.
- How much time can you devote to exercise per day? Per week?
- Do you prefer exercising alone, with a friend or with a group?
- Are there exercises that you've heard about from friends?
- Do you like to be outdoors?
- Do you own any exercise equipment?
- Do you belong to a gym or other facility such as a local swimming pool?
- Are there any sports or activities you currently participate in or would like to participate in?
- Are any members of your family involved in an exercise program?
Questions like these can help you and your health care professional customize an exercise program to fit your lifestyle.
Don't sweat it
Exercise doesn't have to be strenuous and sweaty. Even daily activities like walking to the bus or performing household chores can be a form of exercise. There is a great variety of physical activities that you can engage in for as little as 30 minutes a day that may help you enjoy the benefits of exercise.2
There are so many ways to get regular physical activities, here are a few examples:
- Aerobic exercise—includes any activity that strengthens your heart and lungs, including brisk walking, biking and running.
- Swimming—offers a low-impact aerobic workout as well as the benefits of being in water. The water can help keep your body cool and comfortable, and buoyancy may help muscles to attain a greater range of motion.3
- Yoga—suitable for various fitness levels and can help build strength, endurance and flexibility.
- Pilates—based on correct body alignment and focused on coordination and muscle tone. Exercises are non-impact, non-weight bearing activities and are often performed lying down.
- Tai Chi—another gentle physical exercise. It involves a variety of postures and movements that are suitable for various fitness levels and can be performed sitting or standing. You can go at your own pace, and because there are over 100 movements and positions—it offers variety, which helps keep people engaged and motivated.
- Balance exercises—use exercise balls, balance boards and therapeutic balls to help improve stability. These exercises should be performed under the guidance of a physical therapist or other health care professional.
It may be challenging at times to keep up an exercise routine, but try to stick with it. If you miss an opportunity to incorporate exercise into your life one day, don't lose motivation. Each day offers new opportunities to incorporate aspects of wellness into your life. When you begin to exercise regularly (under your doctor's guidance), you may find that you really appreciate its benefits and gain greater motivation to stay with it.
How can exercise help manage your MS symptoms?
Exercise may help you manage some symptoms of your multiple sclerosis (MS), including:
- improving bowel and bladder function4
- reducing depression4
- improving posture and balance.4
Play it safe
If you and your health care professional have come up with an exercise plan for you, that's great! But don't forget to take a few precautions so you can work out safely and comfortably.
- Always warm up before exercising, and cool down at the end.
- Work out on a skid-resistant floor. Avoid throw rugs.
- Listen to your body. If you start to hurt or feel sick, stop and take a break.
Stay cool. Some people with multiple sclerosis are sensitive to heat and may notice that some MS symptoms reappear or
become worse when their body heat rises. Here are some ideas to beat the heat while exercising:
- 1. When outside, stay out of excessive direct sunlight, and try to avoid prolonged outdoor activity during the middle of the day. Early mornings or evenings may be suitable as long as there is plenty of light for you to exercise safely.
- 2. Stay hydrated.
- 3. Consider swimming as a great way to stay fit and cool at the same time.
- 4. Talk to your health care professional about tips to help deal with the heat.
Remember, you should always call your health care professional right away if you have any concerns or questions about your condition.
1. Petajan J, Gappmaier E, et al. Impact of aerobic training on fitness and quality of life in multiple sclerosis. Annals of Neurology. 1996;39:432-441.
2. United States. Dept. of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity and Health: A Report of the Surgeon General. USDHSS, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 1994;1-278.
3. White LJ, Dressendorfer R. Exercise and multiple sclerosis. Sports Med. 2004;34(15):1077-1100. http://www.direct-ms.org/pdf/GeneralInfoMS/ExerciseAndMS.pdf. Accessed April 20, 2010.
4. Petajan J, Gappmaier E, et al. Impact of aerobic training on fitness and quality of life in multiple sclerosis. Annals of Neurology. 1996;39:432-441.