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Multiple Sclerosis Centers of Excellence

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Six Exercise Tips for Multiple Sclerosis

How important is it to exercise if you have MS? According to the National Center on Physical Activity and Disability: "In addition to improving overall health, cardiovascular fitness, range of motion, and flexibility, exercise can help one increase energy, improve balance, manage spasticity, decrease muscle atrophy, and better perform activities of daily living." Recent studies show that exercise is critical in preventing cognitive decline in those with MS, central in lifting depression and overall mood, and may even delay the progression of the disease. Below are six exercise tips for people with MS. Consult with your doctor before starting any exercise program.

1. Stretch Daily

Flexibility exercises, such as muscle stretching and range of motion exercises, can help prevent shrinkage or shortening of muscles and can help reduce the severity of spasticity symptoms. Dedicate at least 10-15 minutes of stretching every day, ideally several times a day.

2. Experiment

MS affects everyone differently, so try different ways of exercising to see what works best for you. Swimming and walking are popular, as are horseback riding and biking (try a three-wheeled trike if balance is an issue). Give a go at yoga, tai chi, or Pilates, or even an exercise class for seniors. Work out to videos at home or circuit train at the gym. Adaptive ski programs can be a great way to enjoy the cool outdoors.

3. Stay Cool

Heat, while it won’t trigger an attack, can exacerbate your MS symptoms, which can range from annoying to debilitating. Go to the gym when it’s cool, exercise in the morning, seek out air conditioning, consider snow sports, and put swimming (regardless of how you look in a bathing suit) on your list. Use gear like cooling vests and cold packs, and don’t forget to down icy drinks to keep your core temperature from rising too much.

4. Cardio is Key

MS research continues to support the importance of cardio workouts. Not only does it improve fatigue and overall quality of life, but raising your heart rate appears to influence the progression of disease, decreasing both damage to the brain (fewer lesions) and brain atrophy. And yes, even if you are in a wheelchair, you likely can still do seated aerobic workouts.

5. Train in Bursts

Fatigue or weakness can come on quickly, especially when doing the recommended cardio. Space out your "hard" exercise with frequent breaks if needed. High intensity training, where you sprint for 10-30 seconds then rest for a few minutes, can be quite effective. Mini workouts, all combined, produce the same or even better benefits as one long one.

6. Remember, MS is BS

MS is beatable someday. Optimism when fighting an incurable disease is essential to good mental health. You want to be ready when that cure comes with the healthiest body and mind possible. You can do this. You can definitely do this.