Learn the best exercises for MS to boost strength, coordination, and balance
Whether you’ve recently been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS)or have been battling it for some time, exercise may be one of the last things on your mind due to the way MS leaves you feeling. But as is often the case, the thing we shy away from most is often the very thing that will bring us relief.
Regular exercise is one of the keys to a healthy lifestyle and especially if you have multiple sclerosis. Even though MS affects each individual differently, physical activity can significantly improve the quality of life for anyone suffering from MS.
But here’s the rub: some of the most common symptoms of MS include:
- Difficulty walking
- Numbness or tingling
- Balance issues
Any one of these symptoms could easily discourage anyone from exercising. Now combine two or more of these symptoms of MS and the thought of engaging in physical activity may feel daunting!
If you are suffering with MS, the choice to exercise is not a matter of just sucking it up and doing it. Instead, by choosing to exercise regularly, you can expect to actually counter many of the symptoms that plague you. And that’s a great reason to get physical!
Look at some of the benefits of regular physical exercise cited by the National Center on Physical Activity and Disability:
- Improves overall health
- Enhances cardiovascular fitness
- Increases range of motion and flexibility
- Improves balance
- Manages spasticity
- Increases energy
- Decreases muscle atrophy
- Enables one to better perform the activities of daily living
Without my pointing it out to you, no doubt you see the correlation between this list of exercise benefits and the symptoms of MS.
In addition to the above benefits, recent studies have also shown that exercise is pivotal in preventing cognitive decline in people with MS. Regular exercise also kicks the butt of depression and a foul mood, which so often accompany MS.  Physical activity also reduces the risk of complications due to MS and inactivity in general.
Additionally, two proteins, BDNF and NGF, have been found to protect and repair the neurons in a person with MS. And as you might have guessed, exercise significantly increases the levels of those two proteins in those with MS. 
Finally, researchers are suggesting that staying active may even delay the progression of MS.
Ashlea Deahl contracted MS 14 years ago at age 22. Since then she’s been a devotee of regular exercise involving: Yoga, weight training, walking, Crossfit, hiking, stretching and anything else to keep herself active. Her advice to others suffering from MS is two-fold, “Forget about what you can’t do. And whatever you do, keep moving!”
Closer to home, my late mother-in-law, Elsie Kahle, would heartily agree with Ashlea. Mom contracted MS in her late 20s. Into her mid 50s she stayed active by pushing a service cart around a huge office complex every day. The miles she walked pushing that cart, coupled with the great social interaction that the job provided did wonders to keep her ambulatory and in a positive state of mind. (Mom lived to 90!)
Exercise Tips for those with MS
If you have MS and you’re unaccustomed to exercise, then the same rules of thumb apply to you as to anyone else:
- Consult with your doctor before you begin
- Start out slowly
- Include stretching, warmups and cool-downs as part of your exercise regimen
- Find activities that are readily available and that you can enjoy
- Purchase comfortable shoes, clothing and other gear to make your experience safe and pleasurable
Here are some additional guidelines if coping with MS:
- Stay cool – heat often exacerbates MS symptoms and exercise can raise body temperature. Drink plenty of cold liquids, avoid exercising in the heat, and consider water aerobics or swimming to keep cool.
- Seek guidance from a physical therapist. A physical therapist can evaluate your strengths and weaknesses and help you design an exercise program tailored to you.
- Don’t overdo it! Forget about that worn-out, misleading phrase, “No pain; no gain.” You don’t have to become a fitness fanatic to enjoy the many benefits of exercise. Your goal should be movement and enjoyment without increased pain or injury.
- Take frequent breaks. If you tire, take a break and exercise in shorter bursts. Don’t allow yourself to become discouraged. Find what works for you and stay with it.
- Exercise at least 30 minutes, 3 to 5 times per week. Make exercise a part of your daily and weekly routine. Once it’s ingrained into your schedule, you won’t want to miss it!
6 Exercises to Boost Wellness with Multiple Sclerosis
Exercise physiologists at the National Center on Health, Physical Activity, and disability (NCHPAD) and Active MSers recommend the following types of exercises for those living with MS to improve their MS symptoms.,  These represent possible options rather than a to-do list! Choose one or two that strike your fancy. Try an activity to see if you like it.
1. Water aerobics (swimming or water walking).
You can add weights, kickboards, and other equipment to achieve the level of cardio workout you desire.
If you are able to walk, walking is perhaps the easiest, most versatile way to get your exercise. You can walk almost anywhere, anytime. Consider walking or hiking (a more adventurous form of walking) with trekking poles to assist with balance and to add some upper body workout.
3. Stretching, Yoga, or Tai Chi.
These exercises emphasize deep breathing and flexibility. Breathing deeply means more oxygen to the cells for a healthier body. Flexibility translates to greater mobility and fewer and less severe injuries.
4. Strength training.
While weakness is a common symptom of MS, you can counter it by retraining those muscles and halting their decline. There are a myriad of exercises that assist with strength training including: Pilates, Crossfit, free weights, weight machines, resistance training, exercises that rely on your own body weight, etc. Check out these sites for more options on strength training: Everyday Health and Active MSers.
Again, even though balance can be an issue for someone with MS, don’t assume you can’t ride a bike. If a two-wheeler becomes more than you can handle, consider a recumbent three-wheeler. These are a new breed of bikes that are sleek, light-weight and comfortable.
Dancing can keep you light on your feet, helping with balance and coordination. Also, dancing with a partner can not only add to your enjoyment, but also provide a measure of physical stability should you need it. You may also want to try a Zoomba or Dancercise class.
Really, the list of exercises that MSers are capable of is endless. If you’re self-conscious about going to a gym or exercising outdoors in public, consider using a DVD or exercise program via TV. Just keep moving!
In 2006, David Lyons was 47 when he was diagnosed with MS. David had been a bodybuilder, the owner of fitness centers, a martial artist and boxer. He writes:
When I decided to get back into the gym after my MS diagnosis it was not an easy task. My balance was off, my coordination was terrible and between the pain, tingling and numbness I wasn’t sure just where to start. But working out with a disease like MS takes you back to square one and you have to adapt to the new symptoms your body has to face each and every day.
David found tremendous help through a fitness trainer with MS training certification. David’s first long-term goal was to participate in a body-building contest at 50!
Now, competing in a body-building competition may be the furthest thing from your mind! (It hasn’t crossed my mind lately!) But consider all the amazing benefits of regular exercise and how it can provide you with a fuller, more enjoyable, healthier life—even if you have MS.
What’s your next step toward initiating a fitness plan in your life? Let us challenge you to take action within a week of reading this article. Follow the guidelines presented here and experience for yourself how you will benefit from a more fit you.
If you like this article, then you’ll love these:
- 5 Ways Exercise Boosts the Immune System
- Neurobics – How to Exercise Your Brain and Improve Your Memory
- 12 Reasons to Mix Music with Fitness
Rob Fischer has been writing professionally for over 35 years. His experience includes writing curricula, study guides, articles, blogs, newsletters, manuals, workbooks, training courses, workshops, and books. Rob has written for numerous churches, for Burlington Northern Railroad, Kaiser Aluminum, and Barton Publishing. He has also trained managers in effective business writing. Rob holds two Master’s degrees, both focused heavily on writing. Rob has published eleven books and serves as an editor and ghostwriter for other authors.