Exercise and MS – Your Fitness Prescription

Imagine if a pill existed that could boost your brain, strengthen your muscles, improve your balance, and lift your mood, all in one. Well guess what, there is and it’s called exercise! OK, so it doesn’t come in a handy blister pack, and it’s not always easy to swallow, but there’s a whole heap of evidence that regular exercise can help manage the symptoms of MS, and even slow progression of the disease. Here’s what the experts prescribe:

#1 Pilates

Good for: Boosting balance

Named after its inventor Joseph Pilates, Pilates is a series of balance and strengthening exercises that target the muscles of the pelvis, lower back, hips and abdomen. Not only does strengthening the core give you a killer six pack, it can reduce your risk of taking a tumble. In one study, people with MS who performed Pilates showed improvements in balance after just eight weeks, as well as muscle strength and mobility. What’s more, because it’s low impact, Pilates is suitable for all abilities – it has even been shown to improve posture and reduce pain in wheelchair users. Well, there goes that excuse…

#2 Swimming

Good for: Keeping your cool

Cardiovascular exercise (any that raises your breathing and heart rate) is particularly beneficial if you have MS, with several studies showing it can improve energy levels and quality of life. In fact research suggests getting your heart going can even help slow progression of the disease. The beauty of swimming is that the cooling effect of the water discourages overheating, and supports your whole body, while still giving your heart and lungs a great workout, so it’s suitable for all. Whether it’s an aqua aerobics class or a leisurely dip, you should consider making regular swim sessions part of your treatment plan.

#3 Yoga

Good for: Improving your mood

Not only do the intense stretching exercises in yoga increase joint flexibility and muscle strength, the ancient Indian practice can even ease depression in people with MS, according to one review of evidence. Which probably comes as no surprise to devotees – the word yoga literally means “union” in Sanskrit, a reference to the harmony between body and mind that the practice brings. Or as researchers recently put it in a study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, “a balancing effect on the autonomic nervous system”, Either way, we’ll take some, thanks.

#4 Running

Good for: Beating fatigue

Thanks to both the cardio and muscle-strengthening benefits, regular jogging sessions can improve walking in people with MS . If that all sounds a bit tiring, then get this – running could seriously increase your energy levels, too. In one study, people with MS who performed aerobic exercise for 30 minutes, five times a week, experienced much less fatigue. So next time you feel like slumping on the sofa, try getting your trainers on instead.

#5 Weight training

Good for: Improving mobility

Muscle weakness is a common symptom of MS, which can make life tricky, particularly if it affects your walking. The good news is pumping iron can be a great antidote. A review of all the evidence published in in Multiple Sclerosis Journal, found progressive resistance training — where you keep challenging yourself with more weight or more repetitions — has the most positive benefits for countering the physical effects of MS by helping to build muscle tone and strength. Try a weights class at your local gym, or speak to a physical therapist about devising a resistance training regimen suited to you.

So that’s the theory, now for some practice. Whether it’s a trip to the pool or a jog round the park, take it at your own pace – and rest assured, the experts will be working on that wonder pill in the meantime!

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Jamie Tripp Utitus
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Jamie Tripp Utitus
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