Myth: Exercise is bad for you if you have MS.
The day I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis my neurologist went over a huge list of things I should know about my disease. Thank goodness I had a friend with me to be my advocate, because in that moment about 9 out of 10 of my doctor’s recommendations went in one ear and out the other. My wonderful friend wrote a lot down.
But what I do remember, clear as if I heard them just moments ago, were two instructions:
- “You have to quit smoking. If possible, right now.”
- “You must exercise. Exercise will be a key to managing your disease.”
In fact, my neurologist repeated those two orders in several appointments afterward. We had many future discussions about how much exercise she recommended, what types of movement were best, and how I should create a solid, consistent regimen I would adhere to for the rest of my life.
So I am pretty sure exercise isn’t “bad for MS” and the truth is quite the opposite. But hey, my personal experience doesn’t always tell the full story so let’s do what we are here for. Let’s look at some facts.
- According to MS Australia, “Regular exercise is important for several reasons: it improves cardiovascular health, helps improve strength and endurance, can help relieve MS-related fatigue, manage spasticity and is a factor in stabilizing mood. With guidelines, a good exercise program can help to develop the maximum potential of muscle, bone and respiration, avoid secondary complications and benefit good health and wellbeing. Research shows that exercise can also help manage many MS symptoms.”
- People with MS are so vastly different in terms of disease progression and symptoms, it is always recommended to check with a doctor before deciding what level of exercise is best. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Though regular aerobic exercise can increase strength and balance, improve bowel and bladder control, and decrease spasticity related to MS, it can backfire if you don’t take a gentler approach.”
- Heel raises/toe raises – rising up on your tiptoes and lowering your heels
- One-leg stand – standing on one leg and holding
- Foot exercises – using your bare toes to pick up small objects
- Heel-to-toe walk – pretending to walk on a balance beam or tight rope
- Stationary biking – strengthening your leg muscles
- Tai chi – slow motions that build strength and flexibility
Diana Duda, PT, DPT, MSCS from Penn Medicine details how important exercise is, as well as what exercises are best:
- “The best MS exercises are aerobic exercises, stretching, and progressive strength training.”
- “Aerobic exercise is any activity that increases your heart rate…you just don’t want to overdo it—it should be done at a moderate level.”
- “Stretching is recommended for at least 10 minutes per day. It’s the best way to maintain your range of motion, and ease symptoms that are related to spasticity.”
- “Strength or resistance training helps you maintain and improve your muscle strength…just make sure to hit all the muscle groups. This should be done at least twice a week.”
If you find out someone is diagnosed with MS, talk to them. Everyone with Multiple Sclerosis is completely different, experiencing a vast array of symptoms and distinct phases of this disease. At the very least, you might learn something and break a cycle of mythology that is long overdue to be broken.
Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash.