Keeping Fit with Multiple Sclerosis
Fitness is often associated with exercise. While exercise or physical activity is now advised for everyone, having MS can make meeting recommended exercise guidelines challenging. But is it really that important if someone has a chronic disease like MS? The short answer is. . . YES! Lack of exercise is associated with heart disease, cancers, metabolic diseases, hypertension, low bone density, all-cause mortality, and numerous other health risks that affect people with MS. The latest catch phrase about exercise, “Exercise is Medicine,” implies that physical activity is just as important for someone with MS as it is for the general population.
“Exercise is medicine” can take on added meaning for someone with MS because exercise or physical activity can be prescribed (like any other drug) as adjunct or primary therapy to help improve or maintain physical and mental fitness, as well as health and wellness. Exercise may include aerobic or “cardio”, strength, or neuromotor activities. Yoga and Tai Chi are great examples of neuromotor activities that might improve balance and coordination. While exercise is important, health professionals are now beginning to understand that it is just as important to “not be sedentary” as it is to be active, at least as far as health risk is concerned.
How does someone stay active when faced with changes from MS? One important concept to consider is resilience. People who demonstrate resilience strive to view changes from MS as a challenge, and try to avoid thinking of changes as a threat or a failure. With an exercise program, this may mean adapting exercise from day to day, or perhaps updating an exercise program every few months. It may also mean learning a new activity, such as yoga or Tai Chi.
Medical professionals often advise people to avoid being sedentary, or not to sit for prolonged periods of time. For a person who is walking, this may mean walking for 10 minutes over a lunch break. For a person who uses a wheelchair for most of a day, this may mean seated aerobics (moving the arms and trunk) for 10 minutes over lunch. Or, one person may be training for a Can Do Vertical Express ski event and another person may be enjoying a seated game of Wii tennis. For the same person, she may choose to exercise outdoors in the Fall and Spring, but indoors in the Summer.
Physical activity does have something for everyone, and especially for someone with MS.