Multiple Sclerosis Awareness
Multiple Sclerosis and Exercise
For many individuals with a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis, one of the first things to go in their life is their exercise routine. In fact, for many of these people, their exercise routine has likely been in decline for some time before they were actually given such a diagnosis, given how MS affects fatigue, energy levels, and coordination.
Which is rather unfortunate, as exercise can make a major difference in managing multiple sclerosis.
Multiple Sclerosis – An infographic by GeriatricNursing.org
How Exercise Helps
A old slogan of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society was “MS Stops People From Moving.” And sure, in some ways that is certainly true—the symptoms of MS often make coordination and movement far more taxing and difficult, to the point sometimes of outright disability.
But exercise can, ironically, offer a way to fight back.
Exercise can be difficult for people without MS, and so with MS, it can at times be even more challenging. But the alternative—not exercising—is worse.
For starters, exercise is an important part of a healthy life. Not only does exercise help us manage stress (and remember, stress can exacerbate MS symptoms), but it also can help manage weight (which also affects MS symptoms) and help us build strength, so that when we are suffering from ataxia, lost coordination, and more, we are better able to adapt and adjust.
Exercise also helps benefit other parts of our body and bodily systems, as well, including our digestive system (which can sometimes be an issue for MS individuals), cardiovascular system, skin, and more. It also helps slow aging (which MS tends to accelerate), especially muscle breakdown and loss of strength.
Coping With MS With Specific Exercise Routines
In particular, one of the most difficult parts of multiple sclerosis can be the issues that arise with ataxia, balance, coordination, endurance, fatigue, muscle weakness, and spaticity. Specific exercise routines can help with each of these issues.
When you note one of the symptoms developing, work with your doctors and specialists (particularly physical therapists, for instance) to develop a tailored routine of exercises. Then, once you get the hang of it, make those exercises part of your daily routine, so that they become as natural as brushing your teeth.
Like with most things, the sooner you develop that routine, the better; the longer you wait, the more difficult it will be to deal with that weakness or muscular imbalance.
Additionally, waiting before developing a good exercise routine can lead to complications down the line. For instance, weak core muscles such as your abdominal muscles can eventually lead to a curvature of the spine, which in turn can lead to poor posture, pain, and decreased mobility. Left long enough, eventually you may not be able to correct such an issue, so again, being proactive in your exercise routine is better than saying you’ll get to it next week or next month.
Common MS Exercises
Most exercise routines prescribed for MS patients can fall into one of the following categories:
Aerobics: Exercises designed to increase overall endurance, address issues with fatigue, and to maintain body systems, such as cardiovascular, respiratory, and digestive health.
Muscle Balancing: Exercises designed to improve or at least maintain bodily alignment and the relationships different muscle groups have with each other.
Muscle Strengthening: MS can weaken muscles, just as they can weaken from less use as a result of MS, so these exercises can help build strength back up to improve function.
Muscle Stretching: In addition to tightening as a result of spasticity, MS patients often suffer from tight muscles as a result of increased sitting or lying, which these exercises can help address.
Relaxation: These exercises (which may include breathing exercises and meditation) are intended to help improve mood, reduce stress, and relieve pain.
When first starting a new routine, start slowly and ease into your routine. If something hurts, do not try to push through it, as this can create additional problems for you.
Developing Your Routine
Additionally, make sure that any new routine is done under the supervision and care of a trained specialist, such as a physical therapist familiar with MS. They should be familiar with MS patients’ sensitivity to heat and overexertion, as well as what types of exercises will work best for you and your needs.
Additionally, many MS groups may offer their own programs designed for MS patients, such as tai chi, yoga, and pilates classes designed specifically for people like you.
Similarly, aquatic therapy in the form of pool workouts can offer all five categories of exercise listed above, with the additional benefits of safety, buoyancy, and the temperature regulation properties of water.
Just as important, while you may choose to set aside designated time each day for your exercises, you may also choose to incorporate them throughout your daily routine. Five to ten minutes several times a day can be just as effective as thirty minutes all at once. Listen to your body, don’t overdo it, and make sure that you have the help and supervision of others familiar with your needs and treatment plan.
Start today and you may be surprised at what a major difference the right exercise routine can make in helping you manage your MS. Not only will it lift your spirits, but it can help you manage your symptoms as well!