It is widely acknowledged that regular exercise is important in maintaining optimum health, but what do you do when you have a condition that can give you ‘bad’ days and leave you feeling like exercise is the last thing on your mind?
For people with multiple sclerosis (MS), finding the right type of exercise is important as MS affects people differently. There is no one type of exercise recommended for people with MS, it’s entirely down to what you enjoy and what you are able to do as an individual and if you enjoy it, you will want to continue and hopefully do more!
Don’t worry if you have never done any exercise before or it’s been years since you last did anything. Slow and steady is the best way to build up your stamina. Getting your endorphins rushing around your system will soon have you feeling better about things.
There is a wealth of choice when it comes to exercise and there has also been a huge rise in people taking up wheelchair sports – there are thousands of different opportunities for you (and your family) to get involved in. Work with your MS and how it affects you, to find an activity that you love
If you are lucky enough to live near to an MS therapy centre, why not make use of the specialised equipment or exercise classes that they may have on offer? One particular piece of equipment that is a real support to people with mobility problems is a Thera bike.
Thera bikes have a motor that helps tired muscles to keep moving, even when you don’t feel like you can do it for yourself. To find your nearest MS therapy centre see our Choices booklet, MS Therapy centres for details of all centres across the UK and check out the services they offer. Download MS Therapy Centres Booklet
Exercise and MS fatigue
Fatigue is a common symptom of MS. It might sound counterintuitive, but moderate exercise has been shown to improve resistance to fatigue. Clearly, it’s best not to exercise through fatigue or to try to battle on when it would be better to rest, but in the longer term, adding some exercise into your daily life can pay dividends.
The National Institution for Care Excellence (NICE) published guidelines in October 2014 for the management of MS. In these guidelines NICE advised aerobic, balance and stretching exercises, including yoga may be helpful in treating MS-related fatigue.
Sometimes exercise can bring challenges for people with MS. Some people find that their MS symptoms can become temporarily worse during exercise because they are affected by the increase in body temperature. If you are affected by heat, take precautions to keep yourself as cool as possible – always carry a bottle of icy water with you and take rest breaks when needed. If outside, keep to shaded areas. You can also put a hand towel in the freezer and drape this around your neck. The neck has lots of blood vessels, so keeping them cool will keep you cooler overall. If working out in a room or gym, see if you can have a fan working near you to keep the air cool.
Swimming for MS
Swimming can be especially helpful because your bodyweight is supported by the water and the water helps to stabilise someone with balance problems. Weaker muscles can operate in this environment and will strengthen from the resistance created as you move through the water. As swimming involves many muscles in your body, it can also help to increase coordination.
There are now many more swimming pools and leisure centres offering special sessions for people with disabilities or those who require particular help and it may be worth trying one of these sessions first, if you need to. You could contact your local council to see what they have to offer in your area.
Pilates for MS
Pilates is an all-round stretching and strengthening regime, designed to improve muscle strength, posture and flexibility. Pilates is a type of exercise programme based on correct body alignment. The focus is on coordination, moving properly and core strength. Good breathing patterns are also important.
Pilates is a very popular choice of exercise and incorporates elements of yoga, stretching and muscle strengthening using the body’s own weight.
Tai Chi for MS
Tai Chi is meditation with movement. It concentrates on relaxation and correct breathing, while performing graceful, circular, flowing exercises, sometimes to music. It is especially helpful for people with MS who may not have the stamina to exercise at a high speed and another advantage is that you can exercise without overheating.
Tai Chi can help in MS by improving balance, combating fatigue and giving you more energy. It can also help with spasms, muscle strengthening and is very relaxing. Regular practice can also help with depression and maintaining a calm and more serene inner state. Tai Chi is a good method of self-development, focusing the mind and giving you a greater sense of wellbeing.
Yoga for MS
Yoga is about a unity of mind and body. It is as much about your breathing and your outlook on life as it is about postures. It can calm the mind and energise the body, as well as helping to counter-act stress, fatigue and depression.
It has a good effect on the endocrine glands, circulatory and respiratory systems and improves wellbeing. Yoga also tones the digestive organs and other glands in the body such as the thyroid and adrenals.
Like Pilates, yoga is suitable for all ages, and all fitness levels. Yoga is a low-impact, gentle form of exercise, but tends to be floor-based so consideration must be given as whether this is suitable for you.
For more advice on exercising with multiple sclerosis, download our Exercises Choices booklet which includes exercises to try safely at home Download Exercises Choices Booklet