Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is an autoimmune disease that can result in life-altering symptoms, including pain, fatigue and muscular stiffness or immobility. Many common MS symptoms are often painful and disorienting for those who live with the disease, which may have patients choosing rest over physical activity. However, researchers have found that exercise is not only incredibly beneficial for MS patients, but it’s an essential element of a patient’s treatment plan.
Besides improving one’s strength, health and general well-being, exercise has been shown to be helpful in managing many of the symptoms of the condition. Read on to discover helpful ways to incorporate exercise into daily routines without exacerbating the symptoms of the disease.
When it comes to aerobic exercise, many patients with MS avoid common forms of cardiovascular activity, especially vigorous or high-impact activities, because of fatigue, symptoms such as MS spine lesions or bodily pain and discomfort.
Water aerobics is an ideal form of exercise for those who live with MS as it provides the benefits of cardio without placing undue strain or stress on the body. Additionally, water exercise can be customized to each patient with regard to his or her symptoms, mobility and health requirements.
In order to reap the benefits of water aerobics and work out successfully in a pool or other body of water, it is important to ensure that patients mind the pool conditions and frequency of workouts. Make sure the water temperature remains below 84 degrees Fahrenheit, as heat can aggravate many MS symptoms. For best results, patients should aim for at least 120 minutes of water aerobics per week, aiming for four 30 minute sessions spread throughout.
Running, high-intensity interval training or cycling are often too harsh on the body due to the hard impact on the muscles and joints from jumping or pushing through difficult movements. Walking is ideal for people who live with MS as it offers a low-intensity, low-impact way to get cardiovascular exercise.
Walking is an accessible exercise for a variety of fitness levels and symptom flare-ups. A 30-minute walk can be taken at a quick or slow pace, at a flat or steep incline and in a range of locations with varying ground density to support joint health, such as a sandy beach, a soft dirt trail, a park path or around the neighborhood.
In a number of studies, researchers have discovered that regular yoga practice helped to reduce the symptoms of pain and fatigue in people who live with multiple sclerosis. Yoga involves a great deal of deep breathing, stretching, slow movements and supportive poses to increase strength, flexibility and mobility in some cases.
Yoga can also benefit patients with MS by reducing stress and anxiety through the mindfulness aspect of the exercise. Those who wish to begin a practice of their own should speak with their doctor to ensure yoga is safe, as hot yoga or vigorous yoga that will increase the body’s temperature can cause MS symptoms to worsen.
Building muscle strength through strength training exercises can do a lot to help people with MS who may struggle to perform exercises that elevate their heart rate or require an extended duration of time to complete. Strength training exercises can be done quickly and in short bursts, often with no equipment and at whatever pace feels ideal.
When performing these exercises, it’s important to make sure to stretch before and after the workout, and to stay hydrated throughout. As well, each exercise should be performed with proper form to avoid further injury. If necessary, seek a personal trainer or exercise specialist for proper guidance.
Many of the symptoms of MS can cause difficulty with balance and coordination. A good sense of both helps to reduce the risk of falls and can help to retain important functionality and stability as the disease progresses.
Balance training can be done simply by standing on one leg for a period of time, marching slowly in place, performing basic core exercises and practicing different steps such as a grapevine or “tightrope” walk in which feet are crossed or placed in front of or behind the other while walking.
Some of these moves may not get the heart pumping, but they’re excellent ways to build and maintain strength, flexibility, coordination and mobility to improve symptoms today and in the future.