Multiple Sclerosis and Exercise

Jen Ference Nadim Chin Run

It is well known that exercise can help reduce the risk of chronic illness whether you are pre-disposed to it or not. But, what many don’t realize is the positive effects that exercise can have on someone that is living with a chronic condition. Many people have adopted the idea that they should not exercise because of said condition fearing that exercise will make it worse or that they are not physically able. With the MS bike tour coming up soon, I want to give a brief breakdown of what multiple sclerosis (MS) is, why it is important for someone with MS to exercise and what types of exercises are beneficial.

The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada (2016) classifies multiple sclerosis as an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord); where the immune system attacks the myelin (the protective covering around nerve fibers) causing damage and inflammation which disrupts the communication between the brain and the rest of the body. The degree to which the myelin is damaged will determine the severity and category of the condition. As a result MS patients can experience various symptoms such as lack of coordination/muscle spasticity, extreme fatigue, impaired sensation and cognitive impairment (MS Society of Canada, 2016).

There are three different categories of the disease: Relapsing Remitting MS (RRMS), Progressive MS (PMS) characterized as primary and secondary, and Progressive Relapsing MS; RRMS being the most common occurring in 85% of those diagnosed. RRMS is classified by cycles of relapses and recovery which can last from a few days to a few months (MS Society of Canada, 2016). During the recovery phase remyelination occurs, repairing destroyed tissue and allowing for neurological function to begin improving (Williamson, 2011).

Exercise Benefits (Williamson, 2011).

  • Reduced risk of other chronic diseases; heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes
  • Lowered blood pressure, improved heart function, and inhibits bone loss
  • Improved muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, balance, and joint stability
  • Improved mood and confidence
  • Improved neural function
  • Weight management

Types of Exercise and Precautions (Williamson, 2011).

Warm up: Warm up for 5 to 10 minutes at a low intensity to allow for blood to flow to the muscles and loosen up tight joints to avoid injury. Treadmills or stationary bikes provide an effective warm up.

Aerobic training: Cardiovascular activity should be performed 2 to 3 times per week, for approximately 30 minutes at a time at a low-moderate intensity to avoid overheating. Cycling, walking/walking at an incline and low-moderate intensity jogging (if jogging can be achieved without overexertion) are recommended. Swimming can last up to an hour because it will help keep them cool. Remember to keep progressions gradual.

Resistance training: Full body resistance training should be performed 2 to 3 times per week and include at least one exercise per muscle group beginning with the larger muscles to avoid fatiguing the smaller muscles first. Light resistance and higher reps should be used (20-25 reps), perform 2-3 sets with 30-90 seconds between sets. Bands, machines and dumbbells can be used. Use precaution with dumbbells in overhead movements, bands, machines or a spotter is recommended to avoid risk of injury. Core strength, proper form and technique are crucial in avoiding injury and allowing for proper muscle adaptations.

Rest: Allow for 48 hours for muscle recovery between resistance training sessions.

Stretching: Stretching should be performed after activity; stretch each muscle group used during the workout.

Alternate methods: Yoga and water aerobics classes may also be beneficial. Including other physical activity in to your every day life such as gardening, housework, going for walks etc. can help lead to a more active lifestyle.

Tips and Tricks:

  • Progressions should be gradual for all types of activity.
  • Make sure to drink plenty of water and take rest as needed.
  • Seek out guidance from an exercise professional to make sure that proper technique is used to reap the most benefits and avoid injury.
  • Find a workout buddy to help motivate you and make exercise enjoyable.

 

Thank you for reading and keep your eyes open for a post to follow discussing specific resistance training exercises that can be done for someone that has MS! Any questions? Send an email to me at erin@blitzconditioning.com.

 

 

 

References

Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada. (n.d.). Retrieved May 01, 2016, from https://mssociety.ca/about-ms/what-is-ms

Williamson, P. (2011). Exercise for special populations. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

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