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How Exercise Helps

MS fatigue can make you feel like exercise is out of reach. But studies show regular physical activity can actually help you feel less tired over time. You can ease fatigue with many different types of exercise.

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Movement that makes your heart pump helps get oxygen to your muscles. That wakes up your body and mind. Aim for 150 minutes spread out over a week, and keep your pace comfortable. You should have enough breath to be able to talk as you walk.

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If you have issues that can make walking a challenge, head to the pool. Swimming gets your heart rate up without putting strain on your joints. Be sure the water is no warmer than 84 F so you don’t overheat.

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Aquatic Exercise

Water resistance makes aquatic exercises a great choice for working on your strength while helping you keep your balance. Water aerobics -- programs with floats you push under the water as “weights” -- help you stay cool while you move.

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It not only helps with flexibility, yoga also focuses on breathing, which can relax both your body and mind. You can do yoga lying down, sitting in a wheelchair, standing, or in whichever position works best for you. 

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Stationary Cardio

You can get your heart rate up while staying in one spot. In addition to stationary bikes, elliptical machines, and rowing machines, there are also aerobic exercises you can do from a seated position in a chair like shadow boxing. Your doctor or your physical therapist can give you some ideas.

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You may move well enough to ride a bike as you always have. If not, a recumbent bike is another option for riding outside. Recumbent bikes have three wheels and are lower to the ground so there's less of a chance that you'll fall. They cradle your body in a leaned back position and you need less balance and coordination as you pedal. 

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Strength Training

You might picture big barbells when you think of strength training. But you can build muscle with many other tools, like elastic bands or even your own body weight. Getting stronger can help parts of your brain connect better. That can help ward off MS-related fatigue.

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Pilates mixes strength moves and stretches for a gentle whole body workout. Like yoga, you can modify most Pilates moves for any position or level of mobility. Talk with your doctor or physical therapist about how Pilates can help you.

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Tai Chi

This Chinese martial art helps you “actively relax.” You perform a set of slow motions that promote balance, breathing, relaxation, and body awareness. Research suggests that tai chi can help you have less fatigue than people with MS who don't practice it. It can also improve balance and coordination, and help fend off depression.

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Daily Activities

Physical activity comes in all kinds of forms. Walking your dog, doing chores around the house, gardening, or dancing to your favorite tunes are all ways to get your body in motion. Seek out easy and enjoyable ways to fit more movement into your day to fight fatigue. Your doctor or physical therapist can help you find some.

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Tips for Safe Exercise

Always check with your doctor before adding a new activity to your routine. As your body warms up with movement, your MS symptoms can get worse. So it's important to keep cool. Have water on hand, use a fan, or wear a cooling device. Above all, listen to your body and know your limits so you don’t overdo it.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 12/08/2020 Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on December 08, 2020


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BMC Neurology: “The impact of physical exercise on the fatigue symptoms in patients with multiple sclerosis: a systematic review and meta-analysis.”

Penn Medicine: “Multiple Sclerosis and Exercise: Why MS Patients Should Stay Active.”

National Multiple Sclerosis Society: “Exercise,” “Aquatic Exercise Programming

for People with Multiple Sclerosis,” “Yoga and MS,” “Benefits of an Exercise Program,” “Accessible Bicycling,” “Adaptive Tai Chi.”

Multiple Sclerosis Trust: “Staying active with MS.”

MS Society: “Pilates for MS.”

Mayo Clinic: “Exercise and multiple sclerosis.”

Johns Hopkins Home Care Group: "5 Tips to Better Wheelchair Exercise for a Healthy Heart."

Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on December 08, 2020

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

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.

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