Exercise for Multiple Sclerosis

How can exercise help someone living with MS?

Knowing what exercises can be safe and effective when living with MS can seem a daunting task. 

Not to mention how difficult it can seem to get up and moving when your body doesn’t quite move like it used to, and when getting through other aspects of your life seems to take all of your energy.

But as we as exercise physiologists always say – there is a way to exercise for everyone, and for people living with MS, there is plenty we can do to not only keep moving and staying active, but also to help control the symptoms of MS itself and possibly even improve long term outcomes and progression of the disease itself.

Exercise has been shown to help control fatigue and improve functional capacity (ie, your ability to partake in everyday tasks) as well as improving quality of life, balance, strength and fitness overall. (1) Not only this, but recent evidence suggests that exercise as an early intervention for MS can possibly modify the progression and the nature of the condition itself! (2)

Furthermore, exercise has shown to be totally safe for people living with MS, with no added risk compared to people living without MS (3).

Getting Started – What To Consider

So now we know that exercise is safe and effective for MS, how do we go about getting started? Let’s walk you through some of the key things we work towards to help MS symptoms specifically. Keep in mind, the range of symptoms can be quite broad, and thus a tailored approach is always given to offer the best possible help:

  1. Strength: Through specific strengthening exercises, we keep the body remaining strong to keep you moving as best you can, both in and out of the gym. Whether it be to help you transfer independently, or keep up your ability to do the household cleaning, strength exercises can help keep you strong and able. 
  2. Balance: Although it may not feel like it, balance is something we can practice and is highly trainable. By incorporating balance exercises, we can start to see an improvement in coordination, reduced falls risk and improved ability to ambulate. 
  3. Fitness: Like everyone, having increased fitness helps tackle a whole range of symptoms and health concerns. Better sleep, more energy, reduced risk of cardiometabolic disease… the list goes on. Building fitness is a key component in all exercise programs, and is possible for everyone at all levels of their MS journey
  4. Fatigue Management: One of the most common reported symptoms for MS is an increase in fatigue. Through exercise we help reduce this through building better fitness and bodily efficiency to help you get through your day with more energy long term.

Things to remember and some special considerations:

  1. Exercise does NOT make MS worse (3): While you may feel extra fatigue when exercising particularly hard, or if you are just beginning exercise, it is important to note that this is NOT your condition getting worse, but rather an acute effect of the exercise. Exercise should feel comfortable and should leave you feeling only as fatigued as you feel acceptable, but if fatigue does occur, rest assured that your condition is not progressing from the exercise session that felt difficult, and that exercise is safe.
  2. You may be heat sensitive: Most people living with MS have a degree of heat sensitivity. Exercise warms the body and can lead to a feeling of hotness and fatigue. Allow for your environment to be at a good temperature for you to avoid overheating. 
  3. Start small and build up: We all have to start somewhere! Start with something that seems achievable, even if its 2-3 small exercises or a quick walk around the block with a friend to grab a coffee. From here, slowly build more and more.
  4. Doing something is better than nothing: Even if you find it hard to progress, getting some form of movement in will be more effective than none. Do what you can!
  5. Do something you enjoy and that is suited to you: Find a type of movement you like – Whether it be an activity with friends and family, a group class or a gym program you love.
  6. Reach out for help if you need it: Getting started with exercise can seem daunting, especially when MS has such a wide range of symptoms and effects different people on different scales. If you aren’t sure what can help you the most or what exercises are best for you specifically, reach out to your closest Exercise Physiologist to help find the best, tailored exercise program to your needs and your specific condition.

Did this blog get you thinking about your health, or someone you know? Feel free to share this article with them, or reach out to our friendly team. You can also book an appointment to see us under the references below

References: 

  1. Halabchi F, Alizadeh Z, Sahraian MA, Abolhasani M. Exercise prescription for patients with multiple sclerosis; potential benefits and practical recommendations. BMC Neurol. 2017;17(1):185. Published 2017 Sep 16. doi:10.1186/s12883-017-0960-9
  2. Dalgas, U., Langeskov-Christensen, M., Stenager, E. et al. Exercise as Medicine in Multiple Sclerosis—Time for a Paradigm Shift: Preventive, Symptomatic, and Disease-Modifying Aspects and Perspectives. Curr Neurol Neurosci Rep 19, 88 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11910-019-1002-3
  3. Lara A. Pilutti, Matthew E. Platta, Robert W. Motl, Amy E. Latimer-Cheung, The safety of exercise training in multiple sclerosis: A systematic review, Journal of the Neurological Sciences, Volume 343, Issues 1–2, 2014, Pages 3-7, ISSN 0022-510X, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jns.2014.05.016.

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