If you assume that exercise requires a certain amount of physical ability like strength, walking, or running, you may be surprised to know that the only thing required to exercise is determination and a few tools!
Are you ever unsure if you’re doing the “right” things to maintain an active lifestyle? Or do you wonder if it’s truly possible to maintain, or even get back to, an active lifestyle?
I’m here to tell you that research shows it is possible, especially if you engage in functional exercise as well as hidden exercise. Both are equally important and doable for everyone. That may sound like a bold statement, but I stand by it, and after reading this post you’ll understand why!
Let’s start with functional exercise, which is also known as activity-based exercise. Functional exercise helps make day-to-day tasks and activities easier. “Regular” exercises will likely increase the strength of a specific muscle, but the renewed strength often does not result in improved function with daily activities and movements, like walking or stair climbing.
The way to do functional exercises is to begin by choosing one activity that you want to be less challenging. Then, break that activity down into all of the different movements it requires. Those movements are your functional exercises. Let me explain further using the example of walking.
If someone has hip weakness which is making it difficult to walk, a “regular” exercise may be a “straight leg raise”. Or perhaps the “clamshell” or “side-lying leg raise”. However, functional exercise would require the breakdown of the many movements involved in walking such as knee bending, toe lifting, knee lifting, balance, and weight shifting.
Therefore, these five movements should be the exercises that are performed to achieve improved walking. Oh, and bonus… you can choose any position where the exercises can be done successfully. Ideally, this is the same position as the activity (activity = walking; position = standing), however it can be performed in other positions, like sitting or laying down. Make it work for you and your abilities.
Adding “functional exercise” to an exercise plan can make a world of a difference for PwMS. It’s often the difference between remaining at your current ability level and improving your mobility and energy! Things like walking, stair climbing, getting into and out of bed (or a car!) will start to become easier over time.
Now let’s not forget about hidden exercise, which you’re likely doing A LOT of without even knowing it! This type of exercise is “hidden” because we don’t realize we’re exercising or utilizing our muscles, when in fact they are getting a lot of work! A perfect example of “hidden exercise” is standing.
Standing requires ALL of the muscles in your core and legs to be working equally. If they aren’t working equally, you’ll start to tip in one direction or another. Standing, especially for a prolonged period of several minutes, is a great core and leg strengthening exercise. Do you stand while you brush your teeth? Do you stand while you wait for your coffee or tea to brew? Do you stand when you’re washing your hands? Whether you’re standing for 15 seconds or for several minutes, it counts as exercise!
Another example is squatting, aka: sitting down and standing up. This movement requires strength in your hips, thighs, knees, calves, and ankles as well as core strength and balance. Therefore, every time you stand up or sit down on the couch/chair/bed/toilet, you’re working a LOT of muscle groups! Ask yourself, “How many times do I do this movement throughout the day?” The answer is likely “many”! Each time counts as exercise, even if you only do one repetition several times throughout the day.
So, if you’re ever looking for specific exercise that will help with an activity, consider trying functional exercise. And if you ever feel defeated or discouraged that you aren’t exercising enough, remember that you are likely getting a lot of hidden exercise throughout the day.
No matter which type of exercise you do, be proud - It all counts! Doing something, no matter how insignificant it feels, is most certainly better than doing nothing. Over time, you’ll start to feel stronger and your daily to-do’s will feel less fatiguing, leading to empowerment and resilience. You can do this!