Exercise and Physical Activity in MS
With spring in the air, it’s time to think about getting out and being active! We all know that physical activity and exercise will improve our health, but incorporating them into our daily lives can be difficult. Please download and print theto help you individualize an exercise plan to start making changes today.
The first step is identifying what motivates you to exercise? Is it a larger fitness goal like walking, running or biking in a NMSS or local event? Is it maintaining or losing weight? It could be as simple as wanting to be fit enough to play with your children or grandchildren. Whatever it is, it needs to be individualized to your goals in order to help motivate you in those times when exercising is the last thing you want to do.
Secondly, it’s important to take stock of what you are already doing and what is lacking about your current exercise routine. Below are links to exercise handouts to assist in initiating a well-balanced exercise program. The handouts are divided into the four major categories of exercise, providing options for each of the following:
Keep in mind the FITT principles when initiating your program.
Frequency: How often should you exercise?
Intensity: How hard should you exercise?
Time/Duration: How long should you exercise?
Type/Specificity: What type of exercise is most appropriate?
Below are general FITT guidelines for each exercise category. While these guidelines are a helpful place to begin, however please remember that it is important to personalize your program. Allow yourself to begin slowly and build as you are ready and able. Although it does require effort, exercise should never be painful. It is always important to consult your healthcare team. Consider seeking the assistance of a Physical Therapist and/or Occupational Therapist should you need additional direction in initiating exercise.
- Frequency: Daily
- Intensity: 2-3 repetitions
- Time/Duration: Hold 30-60 seconds
- Type/Mode: Individually, with partner, or with equipment
- Frequency: Highly individualized, begin with 2-3x/week (minimum)
- Intensity: Highly individualized, safety during performance is priority
- Time/Duration: Highly individualized, begin with 15-20 min sessions
- Type/Mode: Highly individualized with intent to challenge components of motor and sensory systems
- Examples of challenge:
- varied arm motions
- vertical or horizontal head motions
- eyes open versus eyes closed
- standing/sitting on an unsupportive surface
- Examples of challenge:
- Frequency: 3-4 sessions/week (minimum)
- Intensity: Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale- score 3-5
- Duration: 20-30 minutes/session OR 2, 10-15 minute sessions
- Type/Mode: Walking, Biking, Arm Bike, Boxing, Dancing, Aquatic Exercise, Aerobics Class
- Frequency: 2-3 Sessions/Week
- Intensity: 1-3 sets, 8-15 repetitions
- *Progress repetitions, then weight
- Duration: 20-30 min session or multiple smaller sessions
- Type/Mode: Free weights, resistance bands, body resistance, resistance machines
Any/all steps toward incorporating exercise into your routine are positive. Consider creating two exercise routines- Plan A and Plan B. Create Plan A to be moderate intensity, following the FITT guidelines, and perform this plan as your main exercise program. Create Plan B to be a more short and gentle routine that you perform on days when your energy and/or motivation is low.
After you’ve decided what gaps are missing in your exercise routine, it’s time to evaluate what barriers you may have and make a plan to overcome them. MS symptoms may be barriers as well as everyday life constraints that may interfere with your best made plan. After you’ve identified your barriers, it’s time to get creative and find a “barrier breaker” for each one. Below are some examples of barriers and barrier breakers:
Difficulty finding something that you enjoy
- Try breaking up daily exercise into 10-15 minute smaller sessions.
- Identify the time of day when you have good energy.
- Try pre-cooling by drinking ice water or taking a cool shower or bath prior to exercising
- Identify ways to cool the environment like using fans or exercising outdoors when it’s a cooler time of day.
- You can make time for things you prioritize in your life.
- Communicate with your family, friends, coworkers—asking for help and accountability.
- Think of what groups you’re already a part of and see if they’d like to exercise together.
- Exercise doesn’t have to be in a gym—get creative with where you want to spend time such as outdoors, at a favorite park or in a favorite room in your home.
Now that you’ve made a plan, try it out! Know that you will need to make adjustments and changes as you reach goals and find new barriers. Plan for the unexpected and adapt as needed to stay on track. Don’t feel overwhelmed—making small changes now can make a big impact. Remember to be kind to yourself in the process and know that each day is a new opportunity. Lastly, celebrate your victories and that you CAN DO!