In multiple sclerosis, the most prominent symptom people note is restricted mobility, and this becomes a big focus of management and treatment. In many cases, physical therapy and other exercise are prescribed to assist with greater motion and motor control, as well as to keep issues from worsening. But the number and severity of symptoms is different with each patient, and this is far from the only problem patients experience.
In fact, exercise can significantly improve the overall quality of life for multiple sclerosis patients. Of course, knowing that fatigue and weakness are also symptoms of MS means that there could be concern about exercise exacerbating these problems. But when handled properly, these can even be combated with exercise. Here are six things multiple sclerosis patients should know about exercise in order to use it effectively in managing multiple symptoms of the disease.
1. Benefits of exercise in MS
Some of the benefits of exercise for multiple sclerosis patients are obvious, while others are less so. However, it’s interesting to note the variety of ways in which exercise can offer improvement in the condition of a patient:
- Improved strength and coordination
- Less fatigue and depression
- Healthier cardiovascular system
- Better respiratory control
- Improved bladder and bowel control
- Better attitude and positive outlook
- Higher energy levels
- Increase in social activities
2. Complications of inactivity
Of course, the reverse is also true, which is why exercise can be so important in multiple sclerosis patients. A number of issues with normal functionality occur as nerves deteriorate or inflammation makes it difficult to act normally. This can lead to depression and inactivity.
Not getting the proper exercise can lead to heart disease, muscle weakness, loss of bone density, shallow breathing, and difficulty controlling mood. Therefore, exercise is essential to maintaining both physical health and mental health, especially in multiple sclerosis.
3. How exercise helps mood
While it’s easy to understand how various exercises can strengthen muscles, and aerobic exercise is associated with breathing and cardiovascular activity, it may not be immediately obvious how exercise can help with mood and energy.
Exercise releases endorphins. These chemicals in the body serve several purposes that can enhance the life of someone suffering from MS:
- Reduced pain levels – endorphins breed a feeling of “euphoria”, depending on the quantity in the body; when that euphoria hits, it works much the same as a prescribed drug for pain in that it inhibits receptors from receiving electrical impulses related to pain
- Improved mood – because they are the chemicals that equate to happiness and contentment, endorphins can significantly improve mood for long periods of time following a exercise routine, however minimal
- Energy – endorphins give a sense of greater strength through their euphoric effect so there is a higher level of energy that helps multiple sclerosis patients achieve more with less risk of fatigue
4. Avoiding fatigue
While exercise also releases other chemicals in the muscles that help increase energy, it’s important for multiple sclerosis patients to know their limitations and work with an expert to find a routine that fits into those parameters. Overexerting can lead to many complications, including weakness and fatigue, exacerbation of other symptoms of MS (which could lead to a relapse), and even injury, which can serve as a major setback to improvement.
Timing periods of exercise is essential to assuring a patient doesn’t exert too much energy. It’s also crucial to find the best time of day to complete exercises, especially on hot days. Because of susceptibility to heat, MS patients should find the coolest part of the day to work out and assure that they have plenty of cool airflow in the area where they perform the tasks.
5. Types of suggested activities
Going to a gym and lifting weights or running on a treadmill are not particularly the best ways to help combat the symptoms of MS. Rather, smaller tasks over short periods, frequently, can help in much more realistic settings with less exertion necessary to keep the body and mind healthy. Consider some of these exercises, which are more natural solutions:
- Gardening, with tools to assist and only when there is not excessive heat to battle
- Household chores, which allow for a certain amount of exertion without a commitment to long periods of time or overworking the body
- Cooking, with food preparation in itself also being a game changer in terms of mood
- Short walks, perhaps just down the street where neighbors know the patient and are able to assist should something go wrong
Another great way to get exercise without putting too much pressure on the body is to do so in water. Joining a group of others with multiple sclerosis for specific exercises in a pool can be of great assistance in strengthening the body, as well as improving mood and socializing with others, and it doesn’t tax the body to the point of fatigue and exhaustion.
6. Patients should aim low
Rather than diving into something that is going to be difficult, it’s important to start with smaller exercises over shorter periods of time that don’t leave the patient out of breath. A slow pace can make all the difference in not getting worn out or discouraged. As the patient grows stronger, they may take on more serious exercises or work out longer. In the process, it’s also important to stay hydrated.
Exercise can improve the outlook of the disease as well as help endorse higher spirits, all of which goes around and around to keep MS patients going, regardless of the prognosis. While multiple sclerosis can’t be cured, that’s no reason for patients to sit back and wither away when simple exercise can change the prospects for the future, helping them feel better and continue to enjoy life despite their limitations.