It might be the last thing you feel like doing, but being active can have amazing benefits for people with multiple sclerosis. Not only can it help to improve your mobility, studies show regular exercise can increase your energy levels (yes, please!), and even improve sleep.
My Mind, My Body, My Say aims to help you feel confident – confident enough to talk to your doctor about both your physical and cognitive symptoms. This includes exercise and sleep!
What’s more, research suggests working out can even have an important impact on your mental performance and memory. It could also improve your state of mind – one review concluded that exercise is just as effective at treating the symptoms of mild depression as traditional treatments such as antidepressants and psychotherapy. And it can even help to lower your perception of pain, too.
If just the thought of getting your trainers on sounds exhausting, not to worry! We’re not talking about running marathons here, or climbing mountains. Even just a few simple stretches at home could make a huge difference to your mobility and mood. If you are more of a visual learner, have a look at this link for illustrations on how to do the exercises!
IMPROVE YOUR MOBILITY
Daily stretches are the best way to ease spasticity and increase the range of motion in your joints. Here’s how:
1. Holding a folded umbrella in both hands, stretch your arms out in front of you and slowly raise them up and down five times, keeping your elbows straight.
2. Lie flat on your back and slowly lift your right leg, pulling your knee to your chest. Lower the leg and repeat five times, before repeating the whole set again on the other side.
3. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Then slowly roll both knees across to the right hand side of your body. Then slowly bring your knees back to the middle before lowering them to the left hand side of your body. Repeat five times.
BOOST YOUR ENERGY LEVELS
Aerobic exercise has been shown to improve fatigue and overall quality of life in people with MS. Interested in giving it a try? Here are a few ideas!
4. Whether it’s a gentle stroll to the supermarket, a trip to the pool, or a sweaty exercise class, aerobic exercise in any form can make a difference. The key is to listen to your body and never exercise to the point of exhaustion or overheating. If you’re unsure, speak to your doctor or physiotherapist about the best form of aerobic exercise for you.
IMPROVE YOUR BALANCE
5. Stand with your legs shoulder-width apart, then slowly raise one foot off the floor; try to balance for 15 seconds then repeat on the other side.
6. Try walking across the room on your heels (not in your heels ). Then try it on your tiptoes and finally, with your knees high.
STRENGTHEN YOUR CORE
A strong core can also help to improve your balance. You should engage your abdominal muscles whenever you can – during the arm raises above, for example – but particularly when trying to balance.
7. Lie on your back with your knees bent, your feet flat on the floor and your arms by your side. Slowly lift your hips up, to form a bridge. Hold, then repeat five times.
8. Position yourself on all fours, arms shoulder-width apart, legs hip-width. Now with your head up, slowly raise your right arm straight out in front of you, engaging your core. Hold, then slowly lower and repeat five times, before doing on the other side and then with each leg (stretching it out behind you). If this feels too easy, try raising the opposite arm and leg at the same time.
BOOST YOUR BRAINPOWER
Here are a few exercises to tone up your grey matter, too, and improve memory and cognitive skills. The more active your body is, the sharper your brain can be.
9. Aerobic exercise boosts blood flow to the brain, sharpening mental performance. Think short, sharp and sweaty. Marching or jogging on the spot, or up and down the stairs. A brisk five-minute stroll around the block can also be beneficial.
10. To improve your memory in the long term, try a new sport or exercise regime, or even just a new piece of equipment in the gym. There’s evidence that learning new skills encourages changes in the brain, giving memory a boost.
Remember, when it comes to staying flexible, mobile and mentally sharp, your mantra should be ”use it or lose it”. So if you find yourself struggling to stay physically active, speak to your doctor or physiotherapist (there might be even a specialized physiotherapist in your area, so ask your doctor about that!) who will devise an exercise programme tailored to your needs and ability. Exercise doesn’t have to be a slog – do things that you enjoy (gardening, dancing, swimming, yoga, walking the dog) and you’ll be more likely to stick with it. Who says that keeping your body and mind in shape can’t be fun?