If you’re a fairly active person, being diagnosed with a chronic disease like multiple sclerosis can be daunting. Before you go to cancel your gym membership and say goodbye to your trainers, back up! There’s a mountain of evidence to suggest that staying as active as possible (what’s possible of course differs from person to person) could be especially beneficial when it comes to managing your MS.
Running, in particular, can help prevent health issues such as obesity, type-2 diabetes, heart disease, and even some cancers. We also know it can help to alleviate some of the symptoms of MS.
One disclaimer here: we understand that running is not for everybody. MS or not, some people just don’t enjoy running, whereas others would like to run, but aren’t able. If running is not your thing, you can still be active! Swimming, for example, is a particularly good alternative for people with mobility issues. Or try to incorporate a series of small exercises like these into your daily routine. Let’s have a closer look at the benefits of running anyway, but please keep in mind that most of this is equally true for other forms of aerobic exercise!
Running Keeps You Physically Active
For starters, pounding the pavement boosts your entire cardiovascular system, helping you to maintain a healthy heart. It also helps the body to metabolize fat more effectively, burn calories faster and helps you maintain a healthy BMI. Because there’s a link between obesity and disease progression in MS, this is just one way regular jogs could help you manage your symptoms.
Running also strengthens your muscles, taking the strain off your joints and preventing them from becoming stiff. Little wonder then that increased muscle strength is associated with gait improvements and greater walking speed in people with MS.
And that’s not all! Running could seriously increase your energy levels. In one study, people with MS who performed aerobic exercise for 30 minutes five times a week experienced less fatigue. Considering low energy is cited as the worst symptom by up to 40% of people with MS, this is great news. And of course, the more energy you have, the more active you’re likely to be – another reason physical activity may help slow progression of disability in MS.
Running could boost your brain
Research suggests aerobic exercise may also have a positive impact on your mental performance. Indeed, highly fit MS patients performed better on cognitive tests than less fit ones, according to one study published in the journal Brain Research. What’s more, MRI scans revealed that fitter MS patients had less damage in parts of the brain typically affected by MS, as well as a greater volume of vital grey matter. The researchers concluded that cardio-respiratory exercise (like running) promotes the production of proteins called nerve growth factors that are important for the growth and maintenance of neurons in the brain. This in turn increases the volume of the grey matter and increases the integrity of the white matter, helping to improve cognitive function.
Running could help protect your brain in other ways as well. Research shows aerobic exercise may help to calm the immune system, reducing the production of inflammatory compounds called cytokines.
Running Could Seriously Boost Your Mood
Physical activity such as running is associated with the release of endorphins, natural opiates that improve your mood, leading to the so-called “runner’s high”. Endorphins can also help alleviate stress and even reduce your perception of pain.
One thing sporty people can agree on is that being more active and generally having more energy works wonders for your self-esteem, which of course has a huge knock on effect on your quality of life. In fact, a number of studies show that physical exercise helps ward off depression and in some cases it can even be as effective as certain therapies. The fact that it aids sleep is another huge bonus, as the more rested you are, the better your mood is likely to be.
So whether you’re a total beginner, training for a marathon, or heading to the swimming pool instead, now is definitely not the time to say goodbye to exercise. Just take it at your own pace and the health benefits will follow. If you are unsure about what training is suitable for you, consult your doctor. But other than that – on your marks, set… go!