It’s been researched and documented that people living with MS who stay active show less physical and cognitive deterioration. Exercise does not necessarily mean being part of a rigorous workout plan. There are many different things you can do to benefit from it: chair yoga, Pilates, aquatic therapy, hippotherapy (horseback riding), tai chi, etc. There are also many sports that can be done in a wheelchair, like basketball or tennis.
Performing work around the house is also a way of staying active. Any task that requires moving your body is considered physical activity. Including functional exercises while doing your daily routines or performing a household chore can be very beneficial too, like squatting while you brush your teeth or cook. Or sitting down and getting up from a chair or sofa repeatedly as you watch your favorite tv show.
As we age, our brain shrinks. With MS, this can happen faster. Studies show that aerobic exercises can help slow down this natural process and prevent cognitive impairment. It also helps with reducing brain fog and improving mental speed and processing.
I believe that in my case, when I was diagnosed with MS, since I was very active and fit, my body responded pretty well to the rehabilitation program I was put on during my recovery process. I recovered 90% of my functions after being paralyzed from head to toe, on my right side. I made a miraculous comeback in just a few months. Nobody could tell that I had MS and that I’d been bed bound just recently.
The best thing I did for myself was to get back to my exercise routine. I worked out three to four times a week, ate healthy, and continued doing everything I used to do before my diagnosis. Later on, MS struck me again, this time more gently, and eventually exercising with the same intensity became more challenging. But I’ve learned to approach exercise from a different “angle.”
The 7-Minute Workout is a great way to start your day. If it’s too hard for you, then practice stretching exercises right on your bed before you even get out of it. I keep a Pilates ring, a TheraBand, and an 8-shape tension and stretch band by my bedside. This way, as I lie on my bed and watch TV, I exercise my arms and legs, and work on my foot drop as well. I have NO EXCUSE to not exercise, even after a busy day.
It’s important to understand that whether we have mobility limitations or not, there’s always an option to do a little something every day to the best of our abilities. There are many exercises that can be done on the bed, or from a seated position. The more we stimulate our brains and the more we keep it in check, the better we will do. Remember, MS doesn’t stop. It keeps damaging our nerves, deconditioning our bodies, our gait, our balance. It’s up to us to fight back and counteract our MS symptoms with exercise.
Now, another side of exercising efficiently is to know when to rest. We have to learn to identify when our body needs to recover. You don’t want to overwork your muscles to the point of fatigue. Even people that don’t have MS need to know their limits. If you’re having a “bad day” where you’re too tired to even walk to the kitchen, maybe it’s not a good day to do strenuous exercises. There’s no point in killing yourself working out and then paying for it for 2 days lying in bed. You won’t get any good results this way, trust me. Been there, done that.
One of the most important doctors in my care team is my physiatrist. I make sure I visit her regularly to evaluate my mobility. She continues to order physical therapy as far as I need it, and so far, I’ve been doing it for almost 6 years of living with MS.
There have been times when staying active has been hard to sustain. I’ve had some problems with my knee (chondromalacia patellae) and also bursitis on my knee and hip. These can be very painful and can make exercise almost impossible and, sometimes, not recommended. I found that exercises in the water were the only ones I could perform without being in excruciating pain and, most importantly, without causing any more damage since they’re low-impact. Again, NO EXCUSES for me!
I’m a firm believer that when you live with MS, staying active can make a hell of a difference in your quality of life. I don’t want to close this article without sharing the resources below, which are available to you right now with just a click of a button, at no cost, and that you can take advantage of from the comfort of your home. What are you waiting for? Get ready and go for it!
The National MS Society held a virtual program back on June 10, 2021, called Pathways to Wellness in MS. This program covered the latest updates on wellness research and provided recommendations on exercises and physical activities, as well as tips on lifestyle changes for people living with multiple sclerosis. The resources on this platform are endless: educational presentations by experts about well-being, general health and exercise, demo videos of stretching, aerobic and breathing exercises, recommendations on physical activities you can do around the house to stay active, downloadable workout challenge worksheets, exercises in water and chair videos, and much more. The good news is that this platform is available for registered people until Dec. 31, 2021.
PackHealth is a free coaching support program from the National MS Society based on weekly coaching calls, personalized follow-up, and supportive resources. This program provides meal and exercise plans, medication discounts, grocery delivery service, transportation assistance, mental health resources, and other support.
The National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD) offers 14 Weeks to a Healthier You, which is a free personalized web-based physical activity and nutrition program designed for people with mobility limitations, chronic health conditions, and physical disabilities. You’ll get personalized weekly exercises, nutrition tips and weekly recipes, and you can even connect with other participants of the program.
The Working on Wellness Foundation provides free seated/chair exercises for people with mobility issues live on Zoom or on YouTube conducted by certified instructors. Every week, you will receive emails with the links to access the live sessions. If you miss a live session, you can watch the recording on the foundation’s YouTube channel.
The MS Gym is a YouTube channel created to educate MSers how to exercise to manage MS symptoms, retrain the brain, and create new pathways, known as neuroplasticity. It offers a free MS exercise guide to get you started.
To connect with other people living with multiple sclerosis, join our MS Facebook Support Group.
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