Working out and staying active is one of the most important things you can do to maintain a fulfilling and healthy lifestyle, while managing your MS symptoms. Not only does exercise keep your body healthy, it helps your mind stay positive and focused too. When you exercise regularly you’ll find that the more you do it, the more you enjoy it – and whatever your workout, you can establish it as a natural part of your daily routine.
At Overcoming MS we believe that nothing should come between you and the life you want to lead. It is of course important to consider your MS symptoms when planning and undertaking workouts of any kind. Whether you’re into sprinting, swimming or wheelchair tennis, taking the time to listen to and understand your body will make for a more rewarding exercise routine. Here are the things to bear in mind when you’re working out...
Finding the right type of exercise
The kind of exercise you choose will depend on your individual symptoms and mobility. No two people’s experiences of MS are the same, so what works for someone else won’t necessarily be the right fit for you.
There are plenty of adapted exercises such as adaptive rowing, chair yoga or other sports. If you have symptoms that affect your balance, such as MS gait or MS foot drop, you could consider the types of exercises which use machines to help you stay balanced – such as an exercise bike or cross trainer – whether in a public gym or in your home. More mobile exercises such as running or walking long distances can be an important therapeutic tool to help you manage your symptoms, but you shouldn’t necessarily turn to them as your primary form of workout. Exercises like yoga can also help with stability.
Muscle stiffness, numbness and pins and needles are also common symptoms of MS, and if you experience these then you may enjoy exercises that are based around stretching, like yoga, Pilates and tai chi. Not only do these improve the strength and flexibility of muscles, but they can also ease stress and help you relax.
Resistance training using your body weight or bands at home can be very beneficial. Intense strength training like weightlifting can be appealing for anyone looking to build muscle, but do check in with your doctor first before considering this sort of workout.
Listening to your body
When we start working out after a period of inactivity or illness, there’s a temptation to stretch ourselves by exercising for as long as possible to see how far we can push it. Exercising too intensely or for too long can sometimes do more harm than good, so the key to a successful workout with MS is to start gently and build up strength.
If you can manage a walk around the block then that’s OK – you shouldn’t feel guilty on days when you can’t complete a rigorous workout, and knowing where to draw the line is a positive thing. Your body will tell you when it’s ready to go further. If you are in pain or experience worsening symptoms, just stop.
Taking the time to find a workout that works for you will make exercise more enjoyable and rewarding. You’ll learn what makes you feel great and what leaves you feeling like you wish you had stayed on the sofa!
Working out in a safe environment
Everyone feels differently about what kind of space they’re most comfortable working out in. Some can’t stand a gym and would rather be out in the open air, while others prefer the surroundings of their own home. But if you’re working out at home – especially if your balance is affected by MS – it’s particularly important to take a moment to ensure your workout space is safe and free of hazards.
You should avoid slippery floors and rugs, and always make sure that the space you’re using is well lit. Having a bar or handrail nearby can help too, in case you lose your balance or simply as an aid. There are also plenty of activities you can do in the home that reduce the likelihood of falling, like seated exercises on a bike or rowing machine.
As you work out, your body temperature will rise no matter what type of exercise you’re doing. Depending on your MS symptoms, this can worsen some and you may find that you are particularly sensitive to heat.
To help stop your body overheating when you exercise, avoid doing physical activity during the hottest part of the day (10am to 2pm) at the warmer times of year. You might also find that your body or symptoms indicate which time of day feels best to exercise.
Drink plenty of water and keep a good supply on hand throughout your workout. If you can, taking part in water-based activities like swimming or water aerobics is a great way to ensure that your body stays cool during exercise. As always, you should listen to your body and take time to stop and cool down if you notice your MS symptoms worsening during exercise.
The same goes for after your workout – always take a few minutes to let your heart rate, temperature and breathing get back to normal before doing anything else.
If the support of other people helps with your workout, then there are plenty of ways to join a community. Check with your local authority to see what classes are available locally. Whether it’s a Pilates group or an aerobics season, it can be surprising how much of a morale boost simply exercising with other people can give you, even if the classes are delivered online.
Joining a local gym and finding people to exercise with – or hiring a personal trainer if you can afford one – are also great ways to stay accountable to other people, which will help you to keep motivation levels higher for longer.