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Multiple Sclerosis and Exercise: Why You Should Stay Active

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Multiple Sclerosis is a disabling and chronic disease that attacks the central nervous system. Symptoms can be mild to severe and vary from one person to another. Many people with MS experience problems with balance, coordination, and vision. For some, exercise may seem like the last thing they want to do, but staying active is one of the best things you can do for your health if you have Multiple Sclerosis. Multiple Sclerosis and exercise should go hand-in-hand to help prolong your ability to move independently.

There are many benefits of exercise for people with Multiple Sclerosis. Exercise can help improve your overall fitness, stamina, and strength. It can also help you maintain your balance, flexibility, and mobility. 

Additionally, exercise has proven to affect mood, fatigue positively, and quality of life in people with MS. Exercise can also help reduce the time of using mobility aids to stay mobile.

What is MS?

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) attacks the central nervous system. The CNS consists of the spinal cord, brain, and optic nerves. Symptoms for some might be mild, such as numbness in one limb, or severe, such as vision loss or paralysis. 

The severity, progress, and specific symptoms of MS are unpredictable and vary from one person to another.

MS is thought to be an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases occur when the body’s immune system attacks healthy tissue, usually protecting against infection. 

In the case of MS, it is believed that the immune system attacks the protective covering that surrounds nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord called myelin. 

The damage to myelin causes communication problems between the brain and the rest of the body.

People with MS often need mobility aids as the disease progresses. Exercise is a way to prolong the need for these devices and keep moving independently.

Symptoms of MS can include:

  • Numbness or tingling in the limbs
  • Weakness in the limbs
  • Loss of balance
  • Bladder problems
  • Bowel problems
  • Pain
  • Fatigue

Why is exercise so important in MS patience?

“Exercise helps people with MS by promoting general health and fitness. It can also help to reduce the symptoms of MS,” says Deitra Hickey, MD, an assistant professor in the Department of Neurology at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. “Symptoms that may be improved with exercise include fatigue, depression, spasticity, bladder and bowel function, balance, and mobility.”

Exercise is very beneficial for people with MS, and it should be a part of every treatment plan. Exercise can help by:

  • Reduces fatigue: A very common symptom of MS is fatigue. Exercise can help to reduce fatigue and improve energy levels.
  • Improves mood: People with MS often experience depression and anxiety. Exercise has long been proven to improve mood and reduce stress levels.
  • Reduces spasticity: Spasticity is a common symptom of MS. Exercise can help to reduce spasticity and improve range of motion.
  • Improves bladder and bowel function: Bladder and bowel problems are common in people with MS. Exercise can help to improve these functions.
  • Improves balance and coordination: Balance and coordination problems are frequently plag MS patients. Exercise can help to improve these functions.
  • Improves mobility: People with MS often have difficulty with mobility. Exercise can help to improve mobility while reducing the need for mobility aids in MS patients. 

What are some specific exercises for Multiple Sclerosis patients?

Multiple Sclerosis patients should focus on exercises that help improve their balance, flexibility, and endurance.

Tai chi, yoga, and Pilates are great examples of exercises that can help with Multiple Sclerosis. In addition, Tai chi has explicitly been shown to help with fatigue and improve the overall quality of life.

Tai Chi:

Tai chi exercise can be beneficial for people with Multiple Sclerosis. Tai chi involves slow, deliberate movements and can help with balance and coordination. Tai chi may also help to reduce fatigue and improve overall fitness. For these reasons, tai chi may be a good option for people with MS who are looking to stay active.

Yoga:

Yoga is another top choice for those that are looking for an exercise routine that has been diagnosed with MS. Yoga can help to improve balance, flexibility, and strength. It may also help to reduce fatigue and improve overall well-being. 

Swimming:

Swimming is also a great option for Multiple Sclerosis patients as it is a low-impact activity that can help with fatigue, pain, and spasticity. Swimming is considered one of the best exercises for people with Multiple Sclerosis.

You should speak to your doctor before starting any new exercise routine, especially if you have Multiple Sclerosis. They can help you come up with a plan that is safe and effective for you.

The benefits of stretching when you have MS

Stretching is vital for people with Multiple Sclerosis as it can help improve range of motion, flexibility, and coordination.

Static stretches are an excellent option for people with MS. These types of stretches involve holding a position for 30 seconds or more.

Dynamic stretches are another option that can be beneficial for people with MS. These stretches involve moving your body through a full range of motion.

Some specific stretches that can help people with Multiple Sclerosis include:

  • Hamstring stretch: Lie on your back with one leg straight and the other bent. Slowly straighten the bent leg until you feel a stretch in the back of your thigh. Hold the position for 25- 30 seconds, and then repeat with the other leg.
  • Calf stretch: Stand with one leg behind you and the other leg in front of you. Bend your front knee and keep your back straight. You should feel a stretch in your calf muscle. Hold this for 30 seconds, then do this with the other leg.
  • Shoulder stretch: Reach one arm across your body and grab your shoulder with the opposite hand. Gently pull your arm across your body. This will allow your shoulders to feel the stretch. Hold this for 30 seconds and then repeat with the other arm.

Before exercising, stretching should first be done to loosen up the muscles and prevent injury. However, those with MS especially need to stretch. Make sure to talk to your doctor or physical therapist for the place course of action.

Before starting any exercise routine

If you have MS and are interested in starting an exercise program, keep a few things in mind.

  • First, it’s essential to consult with your doctor or another healthcare professional before starting any new physical activity.
  • Second, start slow and gradually increase the duration of your workouts as you become more fit. As you become more fit, you increase the intensity as well.
  • Finally, choose an exercise routine that includes activities that you enjoy.

What types of food should people with MS eat?  There is no one-size-fits-all diet for people with Multiple Sclerosis, but there are some general guidelines that can help. People with MS should strive to eat a nutritious and a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein.

Can MS be reversed with exercise?  No. Unfortunately, to this date, there is no cure for MS, but exercise can help improve symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.

Can MS symptoms disappear?  Multiple Sclerosis is a chronic disease, which means that symptoms can come and go. Some people with MS may have periods with no symptoms, while others may always have present symptoms.

Final thoughts

Exercise is an essential part of managing Multiple Sclerosis. It can help reduce symptoms, improve quality of life, and increase mobility. Many different exercises can be beneficial for people with MS. Talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise program to make sure it is safe and effective for you.

Photo by Cliff Booth from Pexels


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