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A list of exercise tips for MS

Exercise is a vital part of the OMS lifestyle program. There is a large body of evidence demonstrating the positive effect of exercise for pwMS, so here are some tips to help you understand how different exercise styles help with different MS symptoms.

Types of exercises

The types of exercise pwMS can do is limitless! Aerobic exercise, stretching and progressive strength training can all help with MS symptoms.

If you are someone who finds that heat can exacerbate your MS symptoms, try water-based activities such as swimming, aqua aerobics or aqua Zumba. These exercises will still strengthen your body, but with lower heat intensity.  You can also try using a cooling vest, or try resistance training (e.g. weights or bands), that usually doesn’t usually have the same effect on temperature.

Aerobic training

If your heart rate is increasing and you are sweating, then you are doing aerobic exercise! 

Asking friends or family to join you for aerobic exercise can be reassuring if you are worried about your sense of balance and can also give you some often needed motivation, and make it a lot more fun. 

Examples of this are: 

  • Walking

  • Swimming 

  • Jogging

  • Dancing 

  • Cycling

Start off gently and then up the pace and length of time you exercise for, when you feel able to. 

Strength training

Once you have built up fitness it is important to include strength training in your exercise habits. Strength training doesn’t necessarily mean using weights, you can use your own weight or resistance bands. 

If you are able to, exercises such as squats, lunges and pushups are great ways to build strength without having to use weights. 

Strength and resistance training have many benefits including: 

  • Improved walking speed, stepping endurance, stair-climbing and timed up-and-go test

  • Significant improvements in gait disturbances

  • Increased balance and reduced fatigue, depression, and fear of falling

Endurance training

Endurance training involves regular, steady aerobic exercise, which you would build up over time. 

This might mean extending the length of your walk, increasing the amount of lengths you swim at the pool or intensifying your cycle. 

Endurance training has shown to provide many benefits including:

  • Improved muscle strength, walking speed, fatigue, and quality of life

  • Improved chair transfer, gait, stair-climbing, and timed up-and-go test

  • Marked improvements in aerobic capacity and fatigue (in some people)

  • Variable results on vitality, social functioning, mood, energy, anger, sexual function, bladder and bowel function, and depression 

How can exercise help with my MS symptoms?

The Overcoming MS Program recommends 30 minutes of exercise three to five days a week. Regular exercise has been shown to slow the progression of multiple sclerosis, as well as building strength and flexibility, allowing you to maintain or even increase your mobility.

It also noticeably improves the quality of life for people with MS by reducing fatigue and depression, whilst also helping cognitive functions like memory and concentration. Studies have found that exercise also increases muscle strength, walking speed and improves bowel, bladder and sexual function.

  • In people with mild MS, exercise can improve fitness and function

  • In people experiencing moderate to severe disability, exercise can help maintain function 

  • In people with significant disability, achieving regular exercise can help improve muscle power and mobility-related activities

Studies show that exercise improves mood and general well-being in people with MS, and that walkable distance increases with regular treadmill training. Interestingly, some benefits of exercise in MS are more pronounced in women. 

Exercise can also correct ongoing physical problems caused by MS:

  • Movement (dynamic) exercise has a better effect on spasm and increased tone than stretching does

  • Core postural strength helps correct balance problems that impact stability

  • Muscle strength protects from injury

  • Exercise counteracts the effects of deconditioning

Although exercise may seem challenging when you are dealing with physical symptoms brought on by MS, it is important to remember that any exercise you can do will help you to live better with MS. Try and start slowly and find exercises you enjoy and feel comfortable for you. 

Watch Overcoming MS exercise videos