MS and Exercise: How Do You Stay Fit?
I love this time of year because I know I'll be able to go outside for some exercise instead of being trapped indoors due to inclement weather. When I was first diagnosed 25 years ago, doctors told me to rest, rest, rest and that any exercise that raised my body's temperature was to be avoided at all costs. They told me raising my body temperature might induce an exacerbation. We've come a long way, baby!
Today, it is recommended that people with MS perform some type of exercise, taking into consideration their particular disabilities. (See your doctor before beginning any exercise program.) Exercise can deliver cardiovascular and function improvements; inactivity could lead to coronary heart disease, weakness of the muscles or loss of bone density.
People with MS are able to exercise in many ways – swimming, walking, running, tennis, boxing, golfing, biking – the list is endless. Since no two people have MS exactly alike, an exercise program must be individualized. Sometimes a qualified physical therapist that is familiar with MS can work with a patient to design and supervise an appropriate exercise program. When I was first diagnosed, I had weakness and numbness in both legs. I walked slowly and unsteadily and was afraid of crossing streets alone – actually I was fearful of losing my balance and falling wherever I walked. Finally I found a wonderful physical therapist that was patient, understanding and knowledgeable. He showed me the proper way to walk, where to place my feet for better balance and even designed an exercise program within my abilities. I am forever grateful to him.
In my heart I continue to hold onto the hope that someday I will be able to run again and, eventually, play a game of tennis with my husband. This is a dream I have been hanging onto since my diagnosis and one I refuse to give up. Meanwhile, I have not come in contact with anyone with MS who uses running as their form of exercise until a few years ago when I met a very special lady who has MS and combines her passion for running with a nonprofit of her own that raises money for charity.
Heels and Hills is based in Texas and as they state, “Heels and Hills, Inc., a non-profit organization, is focused on getting and keeping people active in a fun and unintimidating atmosphere through running and walking. Dedicated to changing lives one mile at a time!” They provide events that include half marathon, 10K, 5K and a one-mile Fun Run. Paula, the founder of the organization, keeps in shape and stays socially active by making many friends who are also runners/walkers – all while raising money for many different charities. Although I haven't seen her in two years, I stay in touch with “Heels and Hills” through social media and I am constantly impressed by her dedication and ingenuity despite living with a chronic illness. She gets my Nobel Prize for Living Out Loud despite MS! You go, Paula.
Exercise is a necessity to living a life of quality with MS. How to get that exercise is up to you. Believe me, I have no problem being a total couch potato – I could read, knit and watch old movies all day. But when I do that I begin to feel lousy. I always feel better after taking a walk or doing my yoga< routine or working out with one of my many fitness tapes. Now that it's nicer outside it's easier to get more exercise. So let's do it! Together we'll get healthier and live better lives.
What exercise do you do? I'd love to hear what others do – it's always helpful to gather new ideas and learn from each other…
Cathy Chester is the author of the blog An Empowered Spirit.