The Truth About Exercise and MS

Are There Benefits to Exercising With MS?

We all hear that eating healthy and exercising is important to keep our immune system running the way it needs to be. It also helps with reducing heart disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer, but is there really a plus to helping with Multiple Sclerosis? The answer is YES all the way around. I know the next words out of your mouth is that is easy for me to say, but I can honestly tell you that it is probably the hardest thing for me to do.

Each day when I wake up my symptoms of MS are probably the worst than any other time of day. Most of the time, my sleep is interrupted by pain which requires frequent changes in position to achieve sleep; but the mornings also brings for me a great deal of fatigue, muscle spasms, increased pain, and nausea. My morning routine involves taking it really easy, taking my morning medications, and sipping on coffee along with letting my four legged baby, Schultz our German Shepherd, out to do his morning business. He is only two years old and weighs 100 lbs, and mornings are when he really wants me to play ball with him. Some days it is all I can do just to fill his water bowl with fresh water and feed him but to consider exercising and eating healthy, it seems like a task that is unachievable. To think of getting on a treadmill when I am already feeling weak and shaky along with the other symptoms can be an overwhelming thought and really easy to say, “It’s never going to happen”. But fortunately there is a time of day when my symptoms subside enough for me to tolerate and what I am going to say next will really surprise you.

By mid day, the nausea has passed and my pain has become tolerable and most of the other symptoms has lessen and that is when I “MAKE” myself get on the treadmill. I changed my eating habits from just whatever I wanted to eating fresh healthy prepared meals about 4 years ago trying to improve my MS and this helped a lot all by itself, but was also taking Lemtrada which improved overall how I felt. Adding exercise back then was taking a stroll down the block and back but as I started gaining strength, I increased by walking distance. I had been in a wheelchair for about a year and a half before starting Lemtrada so with the improvements being made by this medication, exercise started off slow until I reached walking 4 miles a day in the neighborhood. Then after going 4 years without taking my next dose of Lemtrada my body started going downhill really fast. I again started limiting my walking to only days I could tolerate but was still eating healthy. As my condition continued to decline, I all but dropped any type of exercise all together. It wasn’t until this past December that I realized that the wheelchair was sitting there waiting for me to get back in to it and with the Lemtrada treatments no longer working, it didn’t take long to realize that it was time to make a major change in my life, and that change had to be a consistent exercise regimen. That is when we moved a treadmill into our home.

With anything new, starting out wasn’t very difficult, it is with any New Year’s resolution you always have the best intentions. I started out slow about 30 minutes a day on slow speeds and low incline and believe me that was hard enough. As the weeks progressed, things became a great deal more challenging from the “new” wearing off to fighting all the symptoms that I continue to have. The one thing though that was consistent was how good I felt after completing each and every exercise. The days continued where I literally played “lets make a deal with God” to even get on the treadmill to playing mind games with myself just to add an additional 15 minutes to the workout time. I found myself increasing the speed and the incline along with my time to where I have finally reached 1 1/4 hours on the treadmill walking 5 miles a day starting at level 10.5 and ending at level 12. I do this every day except on Sunday as I give myself one day off for my body to rest and recuperate. Let me tell you, my overall strength has improved, fatigue has lessened quite a bit, reduction of pain and muscle spasticity, and honestly feel so much better than I have in a couple of years, even my mornings are better because my sleep has improved. The high I get off of the endorphins is amazing and seems to take me through the rest of the day where accomplishing my to-d0-list has become easier and I am enjoying the longevity of each day with a lot more energy. On the days where doctor appoints or other activities have interfered with my workout, I can feel a major difference with how my body responds. If I have gone on a trip where a couple of days have passed before being able to exercise my routine, my body starts responding negatively in a big way. All the symptoms starts to reappear making accomplishing simple tasks become difficult. Now I find a way to get my exercise in on a daily basis still 6 days a week.

Is it easy? The answer is still no but the realization of how I feel if it is not done has become all too clear. Exercise strengthens muscles and even when the nerves want to fail and it will keep you in an upright position a lot longer. It is simple for me because as my body fights the MS, I am wanting to do everything in my power to assist it and stay out of a wheelchair again for as long as possible. There have been too many stories published of others suffering from MS who have had positive outcomes by completing some sort of exercise programs whether it is walking, riding bikes, or even yoga. If you are new to exercise and are looking to change the effects that MS has done to your body, please start off slow to prevent injuries. Talk with your physician for recommendations on how to get started and be safe. It will be the hardest thing to do just to get started and to maintain a routine but I encourage you to at least try. You will be amazed at how much better you will feel by this accomplishment.

MS Blogger and Multiple Sclerosis Activist shares her journey living with MS, tips for others living MS and her husband, Steve, offers his insight as a caregiver for MS.