When I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 10 years ago, I was advised against engaging in physical activity or playing sports. Before MS, I loved staying active, and then one day that was suddenly taken away from me. Determined to find a way to keep my body moving, I did my research, and found that exercise can actually be helpful in managing MS symptoms, as well as improving cognitive function and fighting fatigue. So I spoke to my neurologist and worked on getting active again.
I started slow, with swimming and nordic walking, but wasn’t sure what else to do or how much to push myself. Everything changed when a gym opened in my area. I went to look around and summoned the courage to ask: “I have MS, can you also train people who have MS?” Not only was I met with a resounding, “Yes!” but I also discovered that my gym was open to training people with all sorts of physical challenges. Excited by this new opportunity, I signed up for personal training right away. I was matched with Diana, a trainer who had experience working with people with chronic conditions like mine. We had an intensive preliminary consultation about my potential limitations, and then we kicked off a personalized training plan. My workout involves both cardio and strength training, while also focusing on my “problem areas” (ladies, you know what I’m talking about).
Since starting my training with Diana, I’ve been able to increase the strength of parts of my body particularly impacted by my MS. For example, working on my back has helped me develop better posture and minimize back pain. Additionally, because I had a relapse that impacted the left side of my body, Diana and I decided to focus a lot of my work in the gym there, which helps me feel strong, confident and in control.
There are times when I struggle to find the motivation to get through a tough workout, but knowing how much this helps my MS always powers me through. On top of that, because Diana understands how to work with people with physical limitations, she has great intuition regarding how hard I should push myself. At first, this was intimidating, but I’ve learned that once you get in touch with yourself physically and learn your limits, it can be okay to challenge your body a bit.
Working out doesn’t only help my body - it also helps my soul. It can be intimidating to start, so Diana and I have put together some tips to get you up from the couch and into the gym!
1. Consult with the pros first: Talking with your doctor or a physiotherapist can help you decide what type of physical activity is right for you at the gym. This could be swimming, walking on a treadmill, or working out on weight machines. Anything that gets you up and moving can be a boost for your body and your spirit!
2. Shop around: Not all gym workouts are suitable for people living with MS, and everyone’s body is different. My advice: sample everything! Try out different types before you commit to a regular routine. Interested in trying out a class? Many gyms offer free trials of classes, so check out any that seem interesting to you! You never know what you might discover.
3. Don’t overdo it: Take it slow. No-one ever became a top athlete overnight. Work to build your strength up over time and you may be pleasantly surprised by how strong you feel!
4. Communicate about everything: Stay in touch with your trainer, offer feedback and ask if you are unsure about something.
5. Gear up: Nothing ruins a workout session quite like uncomfortable gear. Invest in supportive shoes and sports clothing designed to regulate body temperature to avoid overheating. Consider workout clothes made of breathable, synthetic fabrics that work to wick moisture away from the skin to keep you cool and dry.
6. Push it…slowly: When going outside your physical comfort zone, be sure to do it gradually so as not to strain yourself. Exercising with MS may never be easy, but it’s a challenge you can take on and feel good about.
7. Enjoy the recovery: Pay close attention to how your body feels afterwards, take a break, and allow yourself to recover properly. While you are relaxing, be sure to enjoy those exercise induced endorphins and take pride in doing something that is good for your mind, body, and MS!