Information is developed and spread so quickly now. When I was first diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis a few years ago, patients were advised to avoid exercise as it could bring on worsened symptoms or new attacks. Now we know that this is mostly a fallacy. An active lifestyle for a person with MS means lessened disease activity in the long term and improved fatigue, strength, flexibility, mobility, cardiovascular fitness, bladder function, and bowel function. Those are some very attractive incentives!
While there may be benefits specific to a type of exercise, there is no singular exercise just for MS. First and foremost, we have to deal with the issue of heat because so many of us experience Uhthoff’s Syndrome. Things like soaking in a cool bath for a few minutes before exercising can help with overheating. Using a pool for exercise is a great way to stay cool – if this is not an option you can always seek out cooling equipment from a support organization.
Some types of exercise recommended for individuals with Multiple Sclerosis:
- Water Aerobics / Swimming – This is a great way to exercise, stay cool, and stay relatively safe during the process (falling while walking in a pool beats falling on pavement!). When I’m able to swim, the pain in my arms and legs always melts away in the water.
- Yoga – Stretching can reduce spasticity and keep you mobile. The nature of yoga may help your mental and emotional state. Yoga can also be done in a wheelchair for less mobile individuals.
- Tai Chi – Slow and gentle movements are suited to those of us with Multiple Sclerosis. Like yoga, Tai Chi can also be done in a wheelchair.
Of course, you can truly do anything that suits you. I use an elliptical machine which is easy on the joints and can be done with the air conditioning blasting on me, but getting on and off the machine is a challenge with my balance. Even Wii Fit has balance games that will have you cursing, laughing, and sweating at your television (and glad that you did it).
My husband and I (and unfortunately also our cats) do yoga together frequently. We prefer to use yoga videos in our home and have discovered that yoga tools can be important to your success. We like to use:
- A cushioning thick mat like Aurorae Northern Lights Yoga Mat (I chose Sky). These mats mean our ankles aren’t in pain at the end of the session. Because the mats are larger than average, I don’t have problems with being off the mat because of my balance problems.
- A mat sling for storage and in case we travel with them.
- Hugger Mugger Bamboo Yoga Blocks will probably never ever wear out like foam blocks.
- Yoga straps with loops mean that you are unlikely to have the strap slip out of your hand. For my use, they seem safer and more effective.
While we own a few DVDs and use Netflix to get rent other yoga DVDs, there are some specifically for Multiple Sclerosis: Yoga For MS And Related Conditions, My MS Yoga, and Chair Floor And Standing Routines.
While there are no MS-specific Tai Chi DVDs out there, a good beginner video may help to get you started.
Local yoga and Tai Chi classes may cater specifically to those with conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis. While memberships to hospital gyms or the local YMCA / YWCA for use of their pool may be relatively expensive, it’s possible to receive a sponsorship if they know of your need. Ask your friends with MS, your doctor, and your local facilities about what’s available. You might be surprised!
Lately, my husband has joined the rest of the world in rediscovering the bicycle. At work I have often joked that bicycling is the new golf, but the trend seems to expand beyond that. We live in a city that strives to be exceedingly bicyclist-friendly. We also live in a city with a long, sauna-like summer so I am having to take this rather slowly. My helmet has a nice visor on it which helps with the sun, and the breeze created from riding also helps to keep me cool.
I would advise anyone to take the precautions I’m currently taking with bicycling:
- Protective Gear When Necessary – In other words, a helmet for bicycling (especially one with a visor to give you more shade). My brain has enough damage already…
- Hydration – This is CRUCIAL. We like the Klean Kanteen 18-ounce or 27-ounce bottles (my bike only has room for the 18-ounce bottle). There is even a Klean Kanteen bottle cage specifically for this.
- Safety – For bicycling, this means colors bright enough to be seen by other vehicles and reflectors for dim light. Our city requires lights for night riding.
- First Aid / Medication – I bring basic first aid with me as well as my emergency pain medications. I wouldn’t want to be miles away from home on an isolated trail when I find myself suffering from the MS Hug.
- Timing – Always avoid the hottest part of the day. I also try to avoid the most traffic and let someone know where I am, just in case.
- Don’t Overdo It – When bicycling, running, walking, etc remember that you must have enough energy left to return to your starting point. It’s important to gradually build up your ability.
- Don’t Forget To Do It – You have to remember to keep it up! Keeping myself accountable with a cycling app like Strava helps keep me going.
Know your limitations going in and set some realistic goals and expectations for yourself. Remember that symptoms can be temporarily worsened by exercise, especially when overheated. I have never enjoyed exercise (this is common for those of us with MS) and it can take hours to days for me to recover from working out. You won’t find me on the elliptical machine before going to work, but you may find me on it afterward!
Consider your specific situation when choosing which exercises to undertake and remember that while your mobility may be limited there is always something you can do. There is always a benefit to exercise – especially with Multiple Sclerosis.
How do you exercise with Multiple Sclerosis? What types of exercise ease your symptoms and what types make them worse?