By Graeme Marsh
Exercise prescription for MS can be a challenging task due to the wide range of effects that it can have on the body, which can from minimal to sometimes quite severe and disabling. For a long time exercise was thought of as being detrimental to people with the condition, although studies over the past ten years tell a different story. While exercise can’t actually reverse the process of this condition it can make a real difference to quality of life and state of mind. There are many inspirational stories of people who feel great benefits from including activity in their lives despite the fact that fatigue and weakness are two of the main symptoms associated with the condition.
The research backs this up as well, despite obvious difficulties with methods and measures. The first study to show the real benefits of exercise for MS was done in 1996 where there was a clear improvement shown in not only fitness, but also in reduced levels of depression. Since then there have been several studies that have shown positive results for many as a result of taking up some form of activity such as aerobic exercise, aquatic therapy, tai-chi, or yoga. Results do vary between individuals but the average improvement in fitness from an aerobic exercise programme over 6 months is around 30%.
However, exercising is not without risk and there are some important things to be aware of before getting started with anything. Fatigue can be a limiting factor and doing too much can often have a knock-on effect lasting several days, so keep exercise within your limits. If you are suffering from problems with balance then it is wise to choose an activity that is non-weight bearing such as stationary cycling.
People with MS are often intolerant of heat, so choose a cool environment for your exercise and ensure you take on plenty of water to prevent dehydration. Symptoms can vary daily and can also be affected by medication, sleep patterns, and temperature, so it is important to be flexible in your approach to take this into account. Perhaps the key area though is that many people find it tough going keeping up their exercise, particularly when symptoms are bad. If you can find someone to exercise with, or perhaps a local class or activity group to join, then it can really help with motivation and encouragement during the more challenging times. For further information visit the MS society website at mssociety.org.uk. You can also find a list of leisure activities specifically for people with disabilities from the charity RADAR at radar.org.uk. Remember to always seek advice from your doctor before you begin a programme of exercise if you suffer from a condition like multiple sclerosis.
Graeme Marsh MSc MES is director of Aegis Training Ltd and one of the U.K’s top fitness experts. He holds a Masters degree in the Science of Sports coaching and is certified as a personal trainer through ACSM and NASM. Graeme is also an AAHFRP Medical Exercise Specialist dealing with exercise for post-rehabilitation. He is a sought after writer and personal trainer currently based at his own private studio in the city of London. www.aegistraining.co.uk, www.strongerandfitter.blogspot.com
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