Does exercise really help manage MS symptoms?
When my MS symptoms first began in 2009, I was an active 14 year old who could participate in any activity at any time. I loved to ride horses, go out with friends, and I enjoyed playing boardgames with my family until late into the night.
After my symptoms began, staying awake for more than an hour at a time was a chore! And the thought of adding exercise to my day was ridiculous. I couldn't picture myself on a treadmill any more than I could see myself walking to the mailbox.
As my MS lesion very slowly healed, I was able to be awake more and more each day, so my therapists asked me to incorporate more and more movement into my day. It was really hard at first! I was absolutely NOT convinced exercise would help me! In fact, they helped to convince me that sometimes, a little movement can help create more energy. It was hard to believe at first, because any use of energy was tough to regenerate. I was tired all the time, it seemed.
With a lot of good coaching, however, I learned a lot about energy management. For example, my family has been weeding and mulching our front and back yard this week, which has resulted in a lot of work in the hot sun. Of course, knowing I don't do well in heat, I had to be sure to moderate what I was doing. I was able to find an area of the yard in the shade to weed and mulch. It was fantastic! I didn't get too hot at any point in the day. I was managing my energy. By staying in a cool spot, I was able to work longer because the heat did not take energy from me.
I often find myself wanting to push through and keep going. I have never been an "active" person in the exercise sense of the word. When I do exercise, I feel so good that I forget what the consequences may be if I go too far. Another example; working out at the gym. It is easy to get into a rhythm when exercising. Perhaps a good TV show is on and you don't want to stop because you want to see what happens! This is completely understandable! However, I find that the rhythm I get into can be faster than anticipated. When I push too far, I usually find myself too fatigued afterwards to do much else.
On the contrary, when I find my limit, and stop when I get there, I feel amazing. I have much more energy than when I started. I once heard that a good way to measure how much is too much, is exercise just until you start to sweat. If you being to sweat, you've gone too far, and your fatigue will strengthen. This may seem like a small amount of exercise, but over time, that time will lengthen, and so will your endurance. My therapists always cautioned me to never go beyond 80% of my energy reserve. They wanted me to have a little left in my body so I could continue the day and have energy to rebuild energy! At one time, in the early days of my illness, they asked me to use 50% as my target!
In the end, it all comes down again, to knowing your limits. Perhaps running a marathon is your limit! Or perhaps getting out of bed in the morning is your limit. It truly depends on who you are and what you are capable of. Reaching your limit and not exceeding it can be very satisfying! Do just enough to feel well - stop when you know it is going to take too long to recover. Happy moving!