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18 July 2016

Don’t stop moving

I am sure many fellow MSers can relate when I say that doing the housework takes a long time, and involves a lot of sit-downs.

Housework is exercise!

I have washed and hung out two loads of laundry, changed the bedsheets (@!!*!?!* duvet covers), cleaned the kitchen, prepared and cooked five meals, washed-up and vacuumed. It’s taken me three days.

I haven’t even touched the bathroom yet. I am sure many fellow MSers can relate when I say that doing the housework takes a long time, and involves a lot of sit-downs. In fact, scrap that.

Life in general can take a long time and necessitates a lot of sit-downs when you have MS. Unsurprising, then, that exercise can often be at the bottom of our list of priorities.

Exercise is one of the core pillars of Overcoming MS, yet when I was first diagnosed with MS in 2009, and was frantically reading everything I could about the condition, I read somewhere online that ‘people with MS should avoid vigorous exercise’. I breathed a sigh of relief. Finally I had a good excuse to cancel my long-since-lapsed gym membership.

Adapting to my MS symptoms

Of course, this was when my MS symptoms were few and far between. Little did I know at that point that, three years later, I would become reliant on crutches.

Work commitments, family commitments, getting enough sleep, fatigue – everyone has a (valid) excuse as to why fitting exercise in is hard. If, like me, you are ‘disabled’ in any way, everyday life can use up a lot of valuable time and energy, without trying to fit in exercise on top of that. It has taken me a while to find what works for me, with regards to exercise.

Before MS, I was never a dedicated gym-bunny, or sports enthusiast, but I did enjoy walking. Be it a stroll in the countryside or a wander round London, walking was my thing. Now, walking any further than 200 metres is a struggle, so I have had to find new methods.

“When I first became ‘disabled’, I was sent to see a physiotherapist, but I was surprised to learn that she wouldn’t keep working with me until I was ‘fixed’.”

Finding new methods

When I first became ‘disabled’, I was sent to see a physiotherapist, but I was surprised to learn that she wouldn’t keep working with me until I was ‘fixed’.

I improved greatly over the course of my appointments, but then I was thrust back out into the big wide world to fend for myself. I continued to perform the exercises that she had shown me, but I felt I needed more guidance.

At my request, my GP referred me back to physio at the beginning of 2015. I asked what I could do to improve. After showing me a few new Pilates-type moves, she then referred me to a programme run by my local council, aimed at improving health in the disabled and elderly.

On the plus-side, this meant that my trips to the local gym were made in the company of several very old and infirm people, making me feel like Usain Bolt. But unfortunately, my personal trainer had no knowledge of MS. He told me, “It doesn’t matter if you don’t come every week; what matters is that you improve every time.” He then watched in slight bewilderment as I demonstrated exactly how many of the gym machines I simply couldn’t even climb on to, let alone improve on.

Finding the right equipment

Consequently, my ‘regular gym sessions’ didn’t last long. It became apparent that the equipment was not really suited to me, and each trip was costing me a small fortune in taxi fares.

I also enjoy swimming, but I find it hard to get out of the pool without some assistance, and I don’t have anyone to regularly attend with. Exercise is obviously important, but we are all different, and our MS affects us all in different ways.

I find that I am much better after a few days walking around work than I am following a couple of days off, simply because I am using my legs more.

It has taken me a while to get into my stride with exercise, but I have found things that I enjoy doing. If I am at work, I treat the walking I do at work as my exercise for the day, rather than berating myself for not forfeiting an hours sleep for a quick burst of Pilates.

A home fitness regime

After deciding that the gym was not for me, I bought myself a Maxo-Fit mini stepper; a stepper machine with a handle which allows me to march on the spot whilst keeping me upright. It’s pretty incredible.

Sometimes I can last longer on it that others, but I feel like I have finally found a method of exercising that is doing me good. I also perform my physio’s Pilates moves, and have a selection of Pilates and Yoga DVDs.

All of these things can be done at home in front of the TV, so there’s no excuse. If you’re in a position to exercise, for goodness sake, DO IT.

Perhaps if I hadn’t been so quick to ‘accept’ that ‘people with MS should avoid vigorous exercise’ I would have been in a much better position when I was floored by my relapse.

Some essential suggestions

If you struggle to exercise due to mobility issues or fatigue, don’t beat yourself up if you can’t face lying on a rubber gym mat whilst some smiley-faced Bendy-Wendy with perfect make-up tells you to “keep going!”

Even some gentle stretching whilst seated is better than no movement at all. The way I see it is that ‘exercise’ does not have to be formal ‘exercise’. It doesn’t have to mean squeezing into Lycra or visiting a gym.

Exercise really means – keep moving. So rather than sit and bemoan the fact that you have nothing useful to contribute to the Overcoming MS Runners forum, find something that you can do, something that you enjoy. And yes, in my book, that does include five minutes battling with a fitted sheet. Right, where have I left the bleach…?

Rachel Hogg