How to Exercise When You Have MS
Moves that work well for you (no sweatfests required!)
Ok, you get it: Exercise is good for the body. The benefits include everything from lowering blood pressure to cutting the risk of diabetes, heart disease and even certain types of cancer. Now you can add "Improve life with multiple sclerosis" to the list. "There was a time when people were told they shouldn't exercise if they had MS," says Nancy L. Sicotte, MD. That changed in 1996, after a landmark University of Utah study showed that not only is aerobic exercise safe but it actually improves many of the symptoms of the disease, including decreased muscle strength, bladder and bowel issues, fatigue and depression. What's more, there are many ways to reap those benefits. Work with your doctor to find a plan that's right for you.
Take a dip
When it comes to enjoyable workouts, it's pretty hard to beat quality time in the pool. Do a few laps or try exercising slo-mo with aqua regimens. An H2O workout is gentle on the joints (making movement easier), and the buoyancy of the water helps keep you steady while the cool temps prevent overheating.
Weight it out
A session with free weights or a weight machine at your local fitness club builds muscle strength. (Bonus: It also helps prevent osteoporosis.) A University of Florida study showed that after eight weeks of supervised resistance training on conventional gym equipment, MS patients had developed stronger muscles, could walk better and reported experiencing less fatigue.
Just say om
Yoga, with its variety of poses, improves flexibility and range of motion. Deep, rhythmic breathing boosts circulation and helps maintain respiratory health. More happiness (literally): Yoga can also reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, resulting in a calmer state of mind.
Go with the flow
Can you say triple threat? Pilates strengthens core muscles (particularly those around the spine) that are important for overall stability, and it improves muscle elasticity and joint mobility as well.
Round out your workout
Since MS can affect the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls balance, introducing a stability ball into your workout is a good idea. It makes crunches and hip lifts even more challenging because you have to work harder to keep your balance when doing these moves. That results in better stability and coordination.
Take a walk
It might be a 15-minute workout on the treadmill or a brisk turn around the neighborhood or the local mall with some friends. Anything that raises your pulse rate is a positive. If you tire easily, divide your cardiovascular workout into three five-minute periods, with rests in between. You'll still reap benefits.
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Before You Get Moving...
Keep your cool
Overheating from exercise can trigger multiple sclerosis symptoms such as increased fatigue, blurry vision and muscle weakness, so it's important to stay hydrated. Drink water or juice before starting and continue downing the cold stuff during the workout. Another way to control your body temperature: Slip on a cooling collar.
Stretch it out
Take five to eight minutes before exercising to help boost your circulation and prevent injury. It doesn't have to be hard-core: Gently move your limbs, then rotate your shoulders and ankles.
Listen to your body
Don't push yourself too far too fast. Start slow and build from there, a little at a time and be sure to balance activities with rest.
Drop a few
"Weight loss can help if you are overweight," Dr. Sicotte says. "The less you're lugging around, the easier it is to exercise."