Exercise and diet are both critical elements of keeping your body healthy. If you are already following a healthy MS diet, then exercise is something that will take your body to the next step.
I have always been a very active person. I love going to the gym and working out. It was my favourite thing to do after work on most days. Then… I had children! It is a tincy wincy bit more difficult now to find the time to have a decent work out. There is always something else to do. Moms out there, you know all about it: nappies, laundry, shopping, meal prep, cleaning… the list is endless really! If I don’t set aside special time and actually do the exercise, no matter what else is shouting my name, I won’t do it. I really need to plan it into my schedule and be very deliberate about it. Maybe we would all be more motivated to keep fit if we knew exactly how and why it is so beneficial for us.
Why Is Exercise So Incredibly Good For Us?
Exercise is literally the elixir of youth and good health. It is free, easy to do (at all levels of fitness) and you feel the benefits almost immediately. Once those endorphins start flowing, your mood improves and you feel better about yourself and the world. Other than increasing your self esteem, it also has a positive effect on your quality of sleep and helps you cope with stress more effectively. It also allows boosts your energy so that you feel you can cope better with all the things you need to get done during the day.
It also helps to slow down the ageing process and drastically reduces your chances of developing a major illness such as heart disease and cancer. I love seeing an eighty year old woman at the gym, giving it her all in an aerobics class. Her body obviously didn’t come close to developing any nasty illness that would have ended her life prematurely. I can see that she has been exercising her whole life and didn’t give it up just because she was getting old. Consistency is the key!
Why Is Exercise Essential For MS’ers?
Exercise has been shown to reduce and manage symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis, leading to better overall health. It goes hand in hand with your MS diet to start a healing process and restore lost functions. If we don’t exercise and carry on living a sedentary lifestyle, the body starts to slow down some of its functions and the chemicals needed for repairing and healing the body slow down too. This means that less healing takes place. Exercise allows the body to work at full capacity and drives the thousands of bodily processes to work more efficiently. Exercise also helps the body process nutrients quicker and dispose of waste/toxins at a faster rate. I have put together a quick summary of the important benefits of exercise for people with MS in the following list:
- Maintains muscle strength
- Keeps your muscles toned which adds to their strength
- Improves mobility
- Keeps your nervous system healthy (protects nerve impulse speed)
- Helps keep arteries clear – aerobic exercise raises HDL (good) cholesterol and lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol
- Increases energy levels so that you experience less fatigue
- Improves balance
- Better bowel and bladder control
- Reduces stress (we know how important managing stress is for MS)
- Rebuilds damaged nerve pathways and find new ones to take over lost functions through repetitive movements
- Weight control and maintenance (just a side benefit of course!)
- Reduces brain fog and increases the ability to think more clearly
On a side note, a study by Ruchika Shaurya Prakash and colleagues has also found aerobic fitness improves brain function in multiple sclerosis patients. According to the researchers, more aerobically fit people with MS performed better on brain functioning tests and had less damaged brain tissue than less fit patients. This suggests that aerobic exercise may have a protective effect on the Nervous System.
Just a reminder, I am not a doctor, so please consult with a professional before attempting any exercise that may impact you negatively.
Your MS Exercise Plan – Let’s Get Started!
Some of you may be thinking, it’s all very well to discuss the benefits of exercise in theory but how on earth do I actually do it in practise! The good news is that no matter what your current disease state is, there is a way for you to get your body moving. The biggest thing you will have to overcome is your mindset about your body and your attitude to exercise. This can limit you as much as your limited functions. Yes, MS is an unfortunate turn of events in your life, however, there is no use in sitting around moping about it.
Getting yourself moving in some way will motivate you to keep moving which will bring symptom improvement. This will further motivate you to do anything you can to improve your condition. Do you see the mindset change? I definitely feel more motivated to eat well after I have exercised. In the next section I am going to discuss a few types of exercise that are beneficial for you.
You should check with your local MS support group for help in finding fitness centers near you that have specific MS exercise classes geared to mobility-impaired people. This will make things much easier, especially if you need help moving around. Check in with the teachers of the various classes before you start to see if they can accomodate any specific physical limitations you have.
1. Aerobic Exercise
This type of exercise gets your heart rate up and your blood zooming through your veins! If done consistently, it will improve your fitness levels, giving you more energy. It also signals the release of those feel good endorphins. I would, however, recommend that you choose low impact aerobic exercises. You do not need to be putting your body under huge strain to get fit. This may be counterproductive.
Start off with some power-walking or swimming and build up your speed and distance from there. Although, I’m sure there people with MS who are marathon runners, it’s probably best to steer clear of that kind of high impact exercise unless you are already very fit and have been running for a while. The point is to get moving and keep moving, not become triathletes!
Many people also find that their symptoms worsen if their body starts overheating. This is a known occurrence for many people with MS. A hot day or even hot bath can cause a flare up of symptoms. So try and keep cool while you are exercising.
Exercises in water are especially good for MS’ers. The water helps main the body temperature, preventing overheating. It is also great for joints as it reduces weight on limbs.
The following exercises should ensure that you get the exercise you need without putting yourself under too much strain.
- Power walking/ fast paced walk in the park
- Nordic walking
- Slow running (if you are already quite fit)
- Low impact aerobics classes
Exercise Challenge: As a minimum, aerobic exercise should be done 3 times a week for 30 minutes. Start with one day a week then build up to two days, then three days. After you have mastered this challenge, go ahead and add a fourth day to your routine. Huge rewards await you!
2. Muscle Toning
Essential for keeping your muscles strong and working effectively, toning exercises are a must in your exercise routine. Most of them can be easily done at home and may only require a few free weights or exercise mats to get the job done.
If you are feeling adventurous, you can also take your workout to the park, and get some fresh air at the same time!
Remember, the aim of muscle toning is not to work us a sweat, but to give your body a weight-bearing workout to stimulate muscle growth and repair.
Here are some ways to get those muscles toned:
- Pilates classes
- Light weights
Exercise challenge: Set aside 10 minutes a day to strengthen your core, leg and arm muscles. Find exercises that suit your level of function and do them consistently. This will definitely improve your current symptoms and hopefully help to prevent further weakness. If you can’t get to any classes buy a good muscle toning DVD so that you can learn proper toning exercises from a professional.
Stretching is one of the loveliest forms of exercise. It helps you to feel more mentally and physically relaxed and also reduces muscle soreness and stiffness. For people with MS, stretching is particularly beneficial in helping to improve symptoms of spasticity.
Painful stiffness is common in the calf, quadricep, groin, bicep and forearm muscles. This may cause permanent muscle tightening over the long term that limits your range of motion and mobility.
Some gentle stretching everyday will help maintain normally stretchy connective muscle tissue. Walking should become less tiring and easier. You will also notice an improvement in your range of motion. Try the following exercise classes for ideas on how to stretch those muscles:
Exercise Challenge: Try and stretch your body first thing in the morning and just before you go to bed. It should only take 5 minutes. Lie on your back, relax and stretch your legs, arms and back. Find positions that work for you. You should start feeling more flexible and experience an increased range of movement within a week or so.
A few quick tips to keep you motivated for longer:
Plan in advance: Plan the time you want to exercise. Be deliberate. Set times for yourself each week where you know you won’t be interrupted.
Be committed: Stick to that time and don’t let anything stand in your way. Don’t push yourself to the point where you cause yourself damaged – but overcome the urge to slack off and just not go.
Have fun: Start with exercises you really enjoy doing. Listen to music that motivates you. Get a gym partner to join you.
Ladies, I am motivating myself as much as you here. Effective and consistent exercise is definitely lacking in my MS diet lifestyle at the moment. However, I fully intend to remedy this! I am going to commit to the exercise challenge this week. Just a quick reminder of what this is:
- Aerobic exercise: 30 minutes 3 times a week (I may start with 2 this week)
- Muscle toning: 10 minutes a day – choose the time of day that suits you best
- Stretching: 5 minutes in the morning and 5 minutes in the evening
Let me know if you would like to join the exercise challenge by commenting below and we can motivate each other, share new exercises or even just let each other know how hard we are finding it.