Exercise is an essential part of managing multiple sclerosis symptoms, and maintaining your mental health.
Article medically reviewed by Karen Vernon an MS Nursing Specialist at Salford Royal Foundation Trust, UK.
Getting regular exercise is good for mind, body and soul – for everyone. If you’re living with MS, staying as active as possible is important. Exercise can help to manage the symptoms of MS, but above all else it can just make you feel better, physically and mentally. Exercise improves mental wellbeing and mood.
Talk of exercise might feel challenging for some people, depending on how progressed your MS is and the type of symptoms you’re experiencing. We get it – some days, you just won’t feel up for it at all. That’s fine. You should always listen to your body, and go with what it’s telling you. If that’s a duvet day, or a movie marathon snuggled down on the sofa, it’s all good.
But, as much as you can, try to schedule some activity into your days, most days. Even 30 minutes a day can make a big difference. No-one’s expecting you to run a half marathon every weekend – though we know lots of MSers who run – and exercise comes in many forms. Try to find an activity that you enjoy and weave it into your schedule and other commitments. Here, we cover some of the most popular, and effective, types of exercise for MS.
“I started running with a couch to 5k, and since then I have done two 10k races and am training for a half marathon. It’s not always easy with some of my symptoms, but given that I could barely walk up a flight of stairs 7 or 8 months ago, I feel so, so grateful.” @eshostoimarop
Exercise can help to treat multiple sclerosis – but not in terms of providing a cure, or as a replacement for disease modifying therapies (DMTs). It’s important to be realistic about how effective exercise can be. But, regular exercise can aid with symptom management in a number of positive ways:
Exercise also comes with a range of secondary benefits to your overall health. It has a positive effect on the cardiovascular system - lowering blood pressure, improving heart rate - plus it helps reduce the risk of diabetes and osteoporosis while maintaining an optimum weight, all of which helps with the management of MS.
Now, many of the benefits we’ve just listed apply to anyone who exercises regularly and not just MSers. Staying active and improving your health is recommended for everyone, full stop. For someone living with MS, the thought of exercising – especially if you haven’t typically led an active lifestyle before diagnosis anyway – might seem off-putting. Don’t worry. As we’ll explain next, some really easy exercises can make a difference; even for complete beginners.
“MS is the cause of my walking balance issues but it’s surprising how much better one can get by just doing physio and re-training the part of the brain that deals with walking.” @highflyingbird
First up, before we run through some of the best exercises for MS, we just need to get something off our chest. If you’re already physically active – if you’re a runner, a keen cyclist, a committed gym goer, whatever – you shouldn’t suddenly stop doing the activities you love because you’ve been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
If you can, keep doing them, for as long as you continue to enjoy doing them, and for as long as you’re physically able to. Which could be for years, and years. Living with MS doesn’t have to mean an end to everything normal – and that applies to exercise, hobbies, socialising and everything else.
There may come a time when exercise becomes more challenging and you’ll need to think about what you do, when and for how long, but until then, go for it!
If you’re not a regular exerciser, or want some guidance on MS exercise sessions, varying activities can be most beneficial. We can categories exercises for MS into three groups:
While here at Shift.ms we enthusiastically encourage exercise if you’re living with multiple sclerosis, there’s also a note of caution. You should always prioritise your health and wellbeing at all times, so listen to what your body is telling you. Tips include:
Don’t push yourself too hard
Set realistic goals
Dress in appropriate clothing for the exercise
Stay hydrated - so plenty of water
When you exercise, your body temperature can rise, and with MS, this can – for some people – lead to a flare up of symptoms. So, it’s important to be aware of overheating and be prepared for it happening.
As well as taking on lots of fluids, take regular breaks to allow your body to regulate its temperature. It’s also a good idea to keep a towel close to hand, or in your kit bag, to help cool down (you can always have a flannel, to douse with water, too).
“Staying hydrated is important and when I slack on the water my symptoms flare.” @Deee
If you’re unsure or at all nervous about exercising after a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, you should always get advice from your MS specialist. They can suggest a personalised exercise plan for you – or refer you to a physio, who will do that – to make sure you’re achieving that perfect balance between activities that will benefit you, without worsening symptoms.
“Advice from a neuro-physio specialising in MS would be good. The exercises that I was given by mine have been so valuable, a year on. She also suggested that I join a gym and gave me strict instructions about what pieces of equipment to use and what to avoid.” @HoneyB