Written by Kimberly Holland | Published on March 20, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD
Everyone benefits from exercise. Whether you’re doing it for weight loss, strength building, or to prevent disease, exercise is an important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. For the 400,000 Americans with multiple sclerosis (MS), exercise has some specific benefits: It can ease symptoms, help promote mobility, and minimize the risks of certain complications.
However, it’s important that you use caution when exercising, as overdoing it may end up compromising your muscular system, increasing pain, and overstressing your body and mind. Here are nine types of exercise you can do on your own or with assistance from a physical therapist to help you maintain a high quality of life and to ease your symptoms.
An Important Note: Check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program or physical activity. As a precaution, your doctor may request you work specifically with a physical or occupational therapist until you have learned how to perform exercises without overworking your muscular system.
A study from the Oregon Health & Science University found that people with MS who participated in yoga had fewer symptoms of fatigue compared to people with MS who had not practiced yoga. In addition, abdominal breathing, which is practiced during yoga, may help improve a person’s breathing even when not doing yoga. The better you breathe, the easier blood is able to circulate your body, which improves respiratory and cardiac health.
People with MS tend to struggle with overheating, especially if they’re exercising outside. For that reason, exercising in a pool may be ideal, as it will help you keep cool.
In addition to preventing overheating, water has natural buoyancy that supports your body and makes movement easier. You may feel more flexible than you would feel outside the water. This means you may be able to do things while in a pool you’re not able to do out of the pool, such as stretch, lift weights, or perform cardio exercise, all of which can boost both mental and physical health.
The real power of weight lifting isn’t what you see on the outside, but what’s happening inside. Strength training not only can help your body become stronger and rebound faster from injury, but also keep you less prone to injury in the first place. For those reasons, people with MS may wish to undertake a weight or resistance-training activity. Routines can be tailored to your specific needs, and as always, it’s important you check with a trained physical therapist or trainer first.
Stretching, much like yoga, allows the body to breathe, calms the mind, and stimulates muscles. Stretching can help increase range of motion, decrease muscle tension, and build muscle stamina.
MS affects the cerebellum in the brain, the part of your brain that is responsible for balance and coordination. If you are having trouble maintaining balance, a balance ball may be useful in training the major muscle groups and other sensory organs in your body to compensate for your balance and coordination difficulties. Balance or medicine balls can also be used in strength training.
Some forms of martial arts, such as t’ai chi, are very low-impact. T’ai chi has become popular for people with MS because it builds core strength, flexibility, and balance.
Moderate exercise—which is any exercise that raises your pulse and increases your respiration rate—offers many health benefits and may even help you have better control over your bladder. Aerobics is a great way to boost your body’s natural defense system, ease symptoms of MS, and build stamina.
Traditional bicycling may pose too many challenges for a person with MS. However, modified bicycling, such as recumbent bicycling, can be very helpful. You still perform the same functions as you would on a traditional bicycle, but you don’t have to worry about balance and coordination because you’ll be peddling on stationary exercise equipment.
Sports activities, such as basketball, handball, golf, and tennis can be modified for a person with MS. Horseback riding also promotes balance, coordination, and strength. For a person who was very physically active prior to being diagnosed with MS, reclaiming a bit of normalcy with a favorite sport may be very beneficial to both your physical and mental health.
Things to Keep in Mind While Exercising
If you’re unable to physically keep up with the demands of a twenty or thirty-minute exercise routine, you can to split it up. Short, five-minute periods of exercise can be just as beneficial to your health.