When you have multiple sclerosis (MS), sometimes the last thing you want to do is exercise. But movement is actually one of the most important parts of treatment. It’s easy to think that any exercise will leave you feeling more tired and sore. However, research shows that surprisingly it can improve your symptoms. You have a few options to choose from when it comes to multiple sclerosis physical exercises. In addition to being essential to your general health and well-being, exercise and physical activity can help manage your MS symptoms.
- What is Multiple Sclerosis?
- The Benefits of Physical Exercise in Multiple Sclerosis Treatment
- Physical Exercise Ideas for Multiple Sclerosis
- Staying Active with Multiple Sclerosis Physical Exercises
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis is a condition that affects the brain and spinal cord. It’s an unpredictable disease of the central nervous system, causing a wide range of potential symptoms. With MS, your immune system attacks myelin, the protective layer around your nerve fibers. This leads to inflammation, scar tissue, and lesions. It makes it hard for your brain to communicate with the rest of your body.
The condition is chronic which means it doesn’t get better or go away on its own. There is currently no cure for it. The National MS Society estimate that around one million people over the age of eighteen live with a diagnosis of MS.
People with MS experience a vast range of symptoms, including but not limited to:
- Difficulty walking
- Acute or chronic pain
- Stiffness and numbness
- Vision problems
- Depression and anxiety
- Problems thinking and concentrating
- Bowel and bladder issues
The Benefits of Physical Exercise in Multiple Sclerosis Treatment
Regular exercise is good for the mind and body. The same is very true for people with multiple sclerosis.
Increase Fitness and Strength
A study published in 1996 at the University of Utah was the first to demonstrate the beneficial effects of exercise for people with MS. Patients took part in an aerobics program and experienced improvements in strength and cardiovascular fitness.
In particular, regular movement and exercise help to improve strength and endurance in your arms and legs. Exercise can be a crucial part of managing your MS symptoms as well as supporting your general well-being.
Improve Bladder and Bowel Function
Many people with MS experience bladder and bowel problems. This can include symptoms such as incontinence and constipation. These can be uncomfortable and embarrassing symptoms of MS.
Additional research continues to confirm the benefits of exercise for people with MS. Studies show that improvements go beyond strength and fitness and apply to several MS symptoms, including bladder and bowel function. An exercise program may help to improve bladder and bowel issues.
Reduce Fatigue and Depression
For some, MS fatigue can make every movement feel very difficult and clumsy. For others, it can feel like brain fog, making it tough to concentrate and think. Exercise can help benefit your mood and reduce fatigue. Another important benefit is that regular physical exercise often leads to an increase in a positive attitude and encourages you to participate more in social activities.
A study published in the BMC Neurology journal shows that physical exercise significantly reduces fatigue in MS patients. The patients experienced early benefits of regular exercise, including an increased ability to perform daily tasks.
Physical Exercise Ideas for Multiple Sclerosis
An exercise program should fit your interests and abilities. You can make adjustments over time so that your exercises suit your day-to-day life. Here are some exercise ideas for people with multiple sclerosis.
Symptoms of MS can make it hard to exercise, but it’s still important to move your body and stay physically healthy.
Aerobic activities are exercises that increase your heart rate, such as swimming, walking, or jogging. You want to be breathing a little heavier and may even be sweating. You should aim to get about 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise each week.
To get in an aerobic workout, you can try:
- Water aerobics
- Seated team sports
- Seated exercise classes
Depending on your abilities, you can adjust your level of exercise. If you usually remain seated, then swimming and seated classes may be better. However, if you generally move freely, you may want to start slow jogging.
Adding a plyometric workout with more explosive movements like lunges and squats can improve strength and enhance your aerobic capacity.
Another critical part of exercise for multiple sclerosis is strength and resistance training. This can help to improve and maintain muscle. You can use a combination of resistance bands and weight machines to build strength. If you’re new to weightlifting, always consult a professional before starting a new regime. Safety should be a priority to reduce the risk of injury.
Weightlifting benefits not only your muscle mass but can speed up your metabolism and even change your mindset. When you lift weights, it puts much less stress on your joints than running. It’s a low-impact activity that strengthens the muscles around the joints.
Stretching is a crucial part of managing your MS symptoms. This is because muscle spasticity is behind many of the condition’s most debilitating symptoms. Spasticity is the tightness of the muscles. It most commonly occurs in the groin, legs, and buttocks and occasionally in the back. All this affects your ability to stand upright and balance properly.
Yoga is a gentle form of exercise that incorporates a lot of stretches and strengthening movements. It’s an inexpensive exercise that may potentially improve multiple sclerosis symptoms.
One MS clinical trial found that yoga decreased fatigue. Studies suggest that other benefits of yoga include improvements in anxiety, depression, spasticity, and bladder function.
Even in cases where people can’t stand or tire quickly, you can do yoga from a seat position. There are many simple exercises you can do, such as:
- Pelvic tilt
- Overhead arm raise
Staying Active with Multiple Sclerosis Physical Exercises
Staying active doesn’t have to mean rigorous cardiovascular exercise to get the benefits. Things like gardening, walking the dog, and taking the stairs all help you keep moving. By incorporating more physical activity into your routine, like some yoga and an aerobics program, it may help to improve MS symptoms as well as boost your overall well-being.