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Person walking on treadmill

Some things are enjoyable, some are not. Some things are easy, some are not. Some are necessary, some are not. Exercise falls within all three categories. Some people find excuses not to exercise, some find reasons to exercise, but, for people living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS), getting the balance right between exercise and fatigue is never easy. It is part of the internal debate, what is right for me? I will address three of the more frequently used excuses but first I want to debunk the myth that it is because I have MS that I can’t exercise; it is the exact opposite – it is because I have MS that I must exercise. MS makes exercise more difficult but rarely impossible.

1.       Expense - Gym membership can be expensive, but I think I get good value for my money. It must be said though, you do not have to go to a gym to exercise. There are many alternatives available; walking, outdoor gyms, cycling, swimming and home exercise.

2.       Exercise is boring! - I enjoy my gym visits. I love the camaraderie that I’ve built up over the years with other members. I counter the boredom by varying my routine regularly, changing the type of exercise and working different muscles – finding what works for you - listening to music, podcasts or audiobooks and alternating a post-work out snack or treat.

3.       I don't have time - Make time, exercise is important. The old adage "it's the thought that counts" is not true in the case of exercise but what does matter is that even the smallest regular effort will yield dividends in time. There is a huge choice of exercise programmes so you can find the right exercise to suit you and your schedule, and that you enjoy.

I have tailored my exercise regime and gym times to suit me. I go early in the morning because that is when I am at my best. Usually, I do up to 30 minutes of exercise and I alternate between upper and lower body and cardio. Many of the exercises that I do could be done at home without any specialist equipment, but I love the social interaction at the gym and make a special effort to get there two or three times a week. I never compare myself to other gym users, and neither should you - that is a waste of emotional energy. I am me and I want to be the best me that I can be. Having an exercise buddy, a like-minded person who understands your needs and limitations, can be important. Talk to a physiotherapist, or a trainer with experience of MS, before you start and always remember that exercise does not show immediate results. Perseverance yields results.

Motivation can be an issue for many – feelings of: “I can’t be bothered! MS is a progressive disease and I’m going downhill anyway so why bother?” I exercise because it is good for me and I believe it allows me to live a fuller life while slowing my progression. Exercise releases endorphins, those naturally-produced, feel-good chemicals. Who doesn't want to feel good?

Fatigue, tiredness and exhaustion are all factors that play a role in any exercise routine. As I mentioned earlier, I pick my exercise times for optimum benefit and also know that when I least feel like exercising is when I need it most. I don't go to the gym on those sub-optimal days, instead I concentrate on my home exercises, (like Pilates, yoga and stretching) because I can spread them over a longer period. I give my exercises a good honest effort, even on bad days, but I do not overdo it on the good days.

Exercise that is not useful is pointless – choose exercises that benefit your everyday life, everyday tasks that others take for granted, like standing, showering and dressing. Set realistic targets – don’t set yourself up for failure. You are the one who benefits from your exercise.

Don’t forget the benefits of Assistive Technology (AT). The clue is in the name – the technology is available to help you. Using AT and asking for help are not signs of weakness, just common sense. For advise on how to begin this discussion with your MS team, click here.

Exercise has wide-ranging benefits on both the body and the mind, find out more here, and for some example exercises you can do at home, take a look at this video

 

 

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