Exercise can help ease multiple sclerosis symptoms, but you have to be careful if you want your workouts to work for you. The most important thing: Don’t overdo it.
No doubt you’ve heard the sayings "no pain, no gain" or "feel the burn," but that isn’t good advice when you have MS. Doing too much can strain your muscles, increase pain, and put too much stress on your body and your mind. Never exercise to the point of fatigue.
Check with your doctor before you start any fitness program. They may suggest:
- Types of exercise that are best for you and those you should avoid. The right moves depend on your symptoms, fitness level, and overall health.
- How long and intense your workouts should be
- Any physical limitations for your routines
- Other professionals, like a physical therapist, who can help you build a personal exercise program that meets your needs
Types of Exercise to Try
Aerobics. Not only does it get your heartbeat up, it lifts your mood. Walking, running, and biking are all good. If you have leg weakness or other problems moving, try something like rowing or water aerobics.
Stretches. They’re good for anyone with MS, but they’re most helpful if you have painful muscle stiffness and spasms. Pay special attention to muscles that tend to get tight and spasm, like the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves. Do exercises that take your joints through their full range of motion.
Aside from regular stretches, yoga and tai chi are great ways to build strength and flexibility. They can also help you relax and fight stress.
Strength training. If your physical therapist says it’s OK, use weights or resistance exercises to build your muscles. The stronger you are, the easier it’ll be to move around. If you get a muscle spasm in the middle of your routine, stop and wait a few minutes for it to relax.
Tips for a Safe Workout
Take it slow. Always warm up first. Ease into your routine. If all you can manage is a walk around the block -- or across the room -- that's fine. Start with that and keep it up. In time, you'll build up your strength and be able to do much more.
Stay safe. Avoid places with slippery floors, poor lighting, throw rugs, or other tripping hazards. Choose activities that won't make it likely for you to fall, like stationary biking or swimming. You may want to have a grab bar or rail nearby. Work with your physical therapist on stretches and strength training to improve your balance and coordination.
Know when to quit. If you feel pain or sickness during exercise, stop. If symptoms start to flare up, change or end your routine. Talk to your doctor. While you're healing, get lots of rest. Once you start feeling better, your physical therapist can help get you back on track.
Find a balance. If you can do vigorous exercise, that's OK, but make sure your workouts don't make you too weak. If you're so tired or sore afterward that you can't prepare dinner, you need to reassess. On a good day, it's tempting to push yourself, maybe walk an extra mile. But overdoing it today could leave you feeling crummy tomorrow. Stick to your normal pace.
Keep it fun: Choose an activity you enjoy. Try water aerobics, swimming, tai chi, and yoga, which often work well for people with MS.
Cool down: When you’re done, always take time to let your heart rate, body temperature, and breathing get back to normal.
What If You Get Overheated?
If you’re sensitive to heat, your symptoms may show up or get worse when your body temperature rises. This will happen when you exercise. To avoid overheating:
- Don't exercise during the hottest part of the day (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.). Try to work out in the morning or evening if you're exercising outside.
- Drink plenty of cool water.
- Be aware of your body. If you notice any symptoms you didn't have before you started exercising, slow down or stop until you cool down.
- Swimming and water aerobics are good ways to stay cool while you work out. Just make sure there are nonslip floors in the locker room and around the pool.