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The Importance of Exercise With Multiple Sclerosis
One of the slogans of the National MS Society is “MS Stops People from Moving.” True. But this is an area where we can fight back through practice.
Exercise is one of the most important things a person with MS can do, and if possible some type of exercise should be done every day. Done well, exercise will never hurt you; however, do not exercise will.
For starters, just like normal people without disabilities, it makes us look good, feel good, maintain or lose weight, and reduce stress. Exercise benefits overall health from our cardiovascular system to our digestive system. As we age, it helps to slow down muscle breakdown and increase strength.
Most people with MS will develop some or many problems over time with things like balance, coordination, muscle weakness and ataxia, spasticity, endurance… There are many types of exercises you can do to effectively help these problems .
If any of these symptoms develop, it is important to begin doing exercises tailored to address each symptom as soon as it begins, and then continue daily thereafter. Make it part of your daily routine, just like brushing your teeth in the morning. The longer you wait, the more difficult it will be to overcome the problem, such as weakness or balance.
In addition, postponing exercise can lead to further difficulties. For example, weakened trunk or abdominal muscles can eventually lead to a curvature of the spine causing poor posture, pain, and at some point an inability to correct.
Exercise for MS basically falls into these categories:
- Muscle stretching – muscles become tight from a lot of sitting/lying down due to the very common symptom of spasticity which causes tightness and spasms.
- Muscle strengthening – muscles become weak due to less use, abuse, or simply due to the disease itself.
- Muscle Balance – means to maintain or improve the alignment and relationship muscles with each other.
- Aerobics – exercises for general endurance and healthy maintenance of our heart, respiratory, digestive and other body systems.
- Relaxation and breathing – to reduce all kinds of stress, improve mood, reduce pain.
For beginners, it’s a good idea to start slowly and ease into a routine that works for you. Do not do things that hurt, because then you will create additional problems for yourself.
Find a physical therapist who understands MS and has worked with MS patients. They understand the sensitivity to heat, and what types of exercises are best to start with an individual’s needs. Also, there are many programs offered by various MS organizations that are offered and designed for multiple sclerosis symptoms. Such classes include techniques such as tai chi, pilates and yoga for strengthening, balance and relaxation.
Aquatic therapy is fantastic for individuals with MS because all five categories listed above can be achieved in a pool. A swimming pool adds the added benefit of safety, buoyancy and coolness of the water. Again, many MS organizations offer these types of programs through their local chapters, as well as local health clubs/organizations.
However, it is not necessary to join an exercise program or set aside a period of time just to exercise. Many exercises can be incorporated into an activity throughout the day, such as bending and stretching while doing some light housekeeping. Or doing things like head rolls, arm stretches or leg lifts while watching TV. Five to ten minutes of exercise several times a day is just as effective as doing thirty minutes of exercise at once.
When exercising, a person with MS must listen to their body. Do what you can do, but when your body starts screaming “enough”! or you get too hot, you have to stop, lie down and rest. If there is a period of reduced energy due to a relapse, take a “vacation” from exercise, do gentle stretching exercises for any part of the body (such as head/shoulder rolls, arm extensions…), or have someone stretch your arms, legs etc. for you while lying down.
I started making videos to demonstrate exercises that I have been doing for years and continue to do. They are on my website with the links. You may get some ideas and tips from them, but keep in mind that I have done this for years and my endurance level is high.
Starting over is the hardest part of doing anything new. If you don’t exercise regularly, start today – you’ll be glad you did.
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