With the rapid development of medical science, it’s easy for outdated beliefs and myths to persist long after they’re disproven. One of the most common of those myths is that people with multiple sclerosis shouldn’t be active because it might make their symptoms worse. Today not only do we know this is wrong, but we also know that staying active is an important part of managing the symptoms of MS.
Living with MS
When first diagnosed with MS, many people believe their life of activity has come to an end. Interrupted by the fatigue, dizzy spells, and muscle spasms that characterize the disease, it’s easy to see why. But thankfully, nothing could be further from the truth.
Chicago Blackhawks champion Bryan Bickell was recently diagnosed with MS, and though it’s not clear whether or not he’ll retire, the fact it’s an open question at all should speak volumes about what it really means to live with MS. And Bryan isn’t alone. Over the past decade, more and more athletes with MS are getting their hands on the adaptive equipment and instruction necessary to enjoy active living in spite of their symptoms.
The Benefits of Activity
Regular exercise is a good idea no matter who you are, and that’s doubly true for people living with MS. Staying active can help you battle fatigue, reduce muscle spasticity, improve balance, increase flexibility, and extend your range of motion. These benefits combined help those with MS to mitigate risk of suffering a fall, which can be especially dangerous for seniors with the disease.
But the benefits don’t stop there. Regular exercise has also shown to improve mood, combat depression, and improve bladder control. And you don’t have to be as fit as Arnold Schwarzenegger to gain these benefits; studies have found that activity as mild as yoga can be effective at helping mitigating the symptoms of MS.
Exercising with Multiple Sclerosis
The experience of living with multiple sclerosis varies from person to person, so the types of therapy for MS that work well for you may not be the same as those that work for others. Some good ideas for getting started include swimming, biking, walking, Pilates, yoga – essentially anything that raises your heart rate or helps you to stretch. Cardio workouts in particular are useful because there’s a growing body of evidence that suggests they may slow the progression of MS. And for seniors, water exercises are often an excellent choice because they don’t stress joints.
In addition to aerobic exercise, it’s a good idea to practice stretching every day. Simple flexibility exercises, like 15 minutes of yoga several times a day, can go a long way towards fighting off spasticity. And for those who can manage it, weight-bearing exercises like jogging can strengthen the bones. This is useful because it helps protect against osteoporosis, which people with MS are at greater risk for developing.
Because heat is known to exacerbate the symptoms of MS, it’s better to do your exercise in air conditioned rooms, snowy environments, pools, or during a cool time of the day. Chilled vests, icy drinks, and regular breaks are also a great way to stay cool.
Living with MS doesn’t mean an end to your physical activity. On the contrary, it may mean entering a new chapter of healthy living. If you can find an exercise you enjoy, that may be all you need to help ensure that multiple sclerosis doesn’t get between you and living your life to the fullest.