Exercise is an important part of living well with MS. Find out what types of exercise are beneficial, how frequently to exercise and more.
Burning roughly 1,000 calories per week is the recommended target for anyone who wants to see noticeable positive changes to their health, although any increase in regular exercise is beneficial for people with MS. The improvements are biggest when going from no exercise to a small and regular amount, especially for the elderly and disabled. Small, regular increases in the level of exercise are big boosts for everyone’s health, even if those increase don’t result in better physical fitness. If you can, try to aim for 30 minutes of exercise three to five times per week.
IMPORTANT: Consult your doctor or a specialized fitness professional if you are new to exercise or have active symptoms such as:
- Difficulty with balance and coordination
- Heat intolerance
- Visual changes
Regular exercise has been shown to slow the progression of multiple sclerosis and make premature death three to five times less likely. Exercise also build 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 helping cognitive functions like memory and concentration. It has been shown to increase muscle strength, walking speed, and improve bowel, bladder and sexual functions.
Aerobic exercise that lifts the heart rate and makes you sweat is ideal – walking briskly, jogging, swimming, rowing and aerobics are all good ideas. Having built up fitness, strength training is important for making sure that muscles remain strong. Yoga and pilates are also beneficial for increasing strength and flexibility.
Yoga has been found to have very positive physical effects on people with MS, improving their strength and stability whilst reducing pain and fatigue. It also has a positive mental impact by easing stress. Yoga is a very flexible form of exercise which can practiced by anyone with MS. Even if someone has low strength, balance or mobility, yoga routines can be adapted to suit their needs. Helpfully for people with MS, yoga can be done in sitting on the floor, in a wheelchair, standing or lying down.
The main styles of yoga are:
- Hatha - gentle and slow physical postures.
- Ashtanga - fast, demanding movements.
- Vinyasa - a less vigorous version of Ashtanga which incorporates music.
- Iyengar - uses props and long-hold postures to build strength.
- Restorative - users are held in a comfortable pose for 5-10 minutes using blankets and blocks.
- Yin - a longer form of restorative yoga.
- Chair - yoga practiced either by sitting on a chair or using a chair for balance.
- Adaptive - altering yoga poses so that they can be practiced by disabled people.
- Yoga therapy - using a mixture of poses, meditation and breathing to improve specific symptoms such as stress.
There is also bikram yoga, however this is not recommended for people with MS as it takes place in hot rooms and aims to make the user sweat. Heat can often make MS symptoms worse.
There are various types of yoga, and many different teachers, so finding the choice that is right for you is key. There may be specific classes for people with MS in your area, although you can also ask individual teachers at yoga studios if they run classes which would be suitable for you. You can also research registered yoga therapists on the International Association of Yoga Therapists’ website.