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Exercise and multiple sclerosis

Regular exercise can help people with multiple sclerosis with mobility, overall fitness and muscle strength, relieve stress, improve mood and reduce fatigue.

A person with MS may be put off exercise because of fatigue, mobility and balance problems.

However, exercise doesn’t have to mean a sweat-inducing workout. In fact, getting too hot should be avoided as it can trigger MS attacks in some people.

There are workouts available for people of all abilities, including a form of Pilates using wheelchairs.

Seek medical advice from an MS nurse or physiotherapist before starting a new exercise programme. They may make recommendations about:

  • The types of exercise best suited to you and those that you should avoid
  • The intensity of the workout (how hard you should be working)
  • The duration of your workout and any physical limitations
  • Referrals to other professionals, such as exercise on prescription or a specialist physiotherapist, who can help create a personal exercise programme that meets your needs. The type of exercise that works best for you depends on your symptoms, fitness level, and overall health.

Tips for safe MS exercise

  • Always warm up before beginning your exercise routine and cool down at the end.
  • If you plan to workout for 30 minutes, start with 10-minute workout sessions and work your way up.
  • Workout in a safe environment; avoid slippery floors, poor lighting, mats, and other potential tripping hazards.
  • If you have difficulty balancing, exercise within reach of a bar or rail.
  • If at any time you feel sick or you begin to hurt, stop.
  • Select an activity that you enjoy and have fun. Water aerobics, swimming, tai chi, and yoga are examples of exercises that often work well for people with MS.
  • There are exergaming exercises that can be done at home using video consoles.
  • The MS Society produces a special MS exercise DVD featuring Olympian Sally Gunnell. Mr Motivator features on the Move It for MS DVD from the Multiple Sclerosis Trust.

What should I do if I get overheated?

Some people with MS are sensitive to heat, which means they notice that their symptoms either reappear or become worse when their body heat rises. This will happen when you exercise. Here are some tips to avoid overheating:

  • Don't exercise during the hottest time of the day (10am to 2pm) during the summer. Try to exercise in the morning or evening if you are exercising outside.
  • Drink plenty of cool fluids.
  • Become aware of your body. If you notice any symptoms that you didn't have before you began exercising, then slow down or stop exercising until you cool down.
  • Swimming and water aerobics are good exercise options to keep you cool while exercising. Also, make sure that there are non-slip floors in the changing rooms and around the pool.

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