Sunshine, fresh air, beautiful views -- there’s a lot to love about the outdoors. And so many ways to enjoy it, from hiking a mountain trail to gardening in your backyard. You don’t have to give it up because of MS. A little planning and the right tools can help you enjoy yourself while you stay safe and comfortable.
Hit the Pool
Swimming and water aerobics are excellent workouts for people with MS. The water supports your body and makes it easier to move. It also provides resistance, which will strengthen your muscles. Plus, you’re much less likely to overheat when your heart rate starts to climb. If the pool is heated, check the temperature to make sure it’s not too hot. A range of 80-84 degrees is ideal.
Upgrade or Modify Your Bike
Love cycling? Don’t give it up because of MS. Try switching to a three-wheeled recumbent bicycle or a handbike for more stability. You can order them with special features like backrests and leg straps, depending on your needs. Another option: Modify your existing bike with features like toe clips, which are helpful if your feet tend to go numb and slip off the pedals.
Enjoy great weather and beautiful scenery on a leisurely trail ride. Gentle horseback riding is fun and relaxing, and it can improve your core strength and balance. Plus, some horseback riding programs are designed as therapy for people with movement problems. You can look up a center near you online via Path International or The American Hippotherapy Association.
Mix It Up
It’s a good idea to target different parts of your body with different exercises. It challenges you and keeps your muscles toned evenly. So try something new! If you always go walking, for example, take an outdoor yoga class once in a while. Another benefit to exercise variety: A review of 45 studies found that mixed fitness training worked especially well against MS-related fatigue.
Bring a Buddy
A friend who can join you for an outdoor activity means you’ll have an extra hand if you start to feel unsteady on your feet or get hit with fatigue. She can also check in with you during exercise to make sure you’re feeling OK. Plus, it’s more fun to have company -- and you’ll be less likely to cancel your outdoor plans in favor of cooling it on the couch.
Map Out Your Route
For activities like hiking and biking, be sure to plot out the terrain before you hit the trail. You’ll know exactly where you’re going, how many miles you’ll log, and how long it should take. You can also make note of where to find rest stops and, most important, bathrooms. In most national and state parks, you can choose from accessible trails with fewer steep grades and smoother paths.
Keep Your Cool
A rise in body temperature -- even just a quarter of a degree -- can make MS symptoms worse. So plan to get outside in the cooler parts of the day. While you’re out, a cooling vest can also help. They are battery-operated or may use gel packs to keep your temperature down when you’re active. You can also try cooling headbands or neckbands. Even a spray bottle of water can help you beat the heat.
Choose the Right Shoes
Whether on rocky terrain or a smooth track, your footwear should give you extra stability and help with issues like numbness in your feet. Look for a pair that’s lightweight (so it takes less effort to lift off the ground), has a wide heel (for support and balance), and has enough room for orthotics or a brace, if you use either. Your doctor or physical therapist can point you to good brands.
Sand-Proof Your Walking Aids
Heading to the beach? If you use walking aids like crutches or canes, you can buy special tips that attach to the bottom and help you move more easily without sinking into the sand. Some beaches may also let you rent a beach wheelchair, which has large, wider wheels designed to travel across the shore without getting stuck. Research your options before you go, and see if you can reserve one in advance.
National Multiple Sclerosis Society. “COOL IT! Beat the Heat,” “Exercise – or not -- in Water,” “Accessible Bicycling,” “Horse power,” “Accessible Nature Trails,” “Heat and Temperature Sensitivity,” “No glass slippers: What to look for in footwear.”
NCHPAD: “Multiple Sclerosis and Exercise.”
Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International.
American Hippotherapy Association.
Heine M. Cochrane, published online Sept. 11, 2015.
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.