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What kind of exercises can I do if I have multiple sclerosis?

Researchers and clinicians have generally focused exclusively on the benefits and promotion of exercise training in persons with multiple sclerosis (MS). Exercise training is a type of structured physical activity that focuses on improving one’s physical fitness and is typically performed under supervised conditions in a gymnasium.

This type of physical activity could include aerobic exercise (such as riding a cycle) or resistance exercise (such as lifting weights). It is prescribed based on intensity, duration and frequency, with the objective of improving endurance or muscle strength. There is substantial scientific evidence that exercise training is safe and effective in persons with MS, but exercise training is neither an available nor attractive option for all persons with MS.

Researchers have begun focusing on being physically active as part of daily life (lifestyle physical activity) in persons with MS. This represents an alternative approach for managing many of the MS consequences and signifies a fresh approach for promotion of health and wellness in MS. The hope is that this will represent an alternative or complementary approach compared with exercise training for promotion of health and wellness in MS.

People with multiple sclerosis (MS) should exercise but they should listen to their bodies and not overdo it. I generally recommend three days per week of aerobic exercise, which is sustained exercise that elevates your heart rate consistently for 30 minutes. Good options are walking, swimming and water aerobics. Daily stretching is also very important. Many experience increased energy soon after starting even the most basic yoga program. It is safe, effective and easily modified for those in wheelchairs. Try to stay as active as possible, but also stay aware of your body's signals. Your body will tell you when you are overdoing it.

In people with multiple sclerosis (MS) exercise can be therapeutic. Exercise is at least as important for women with MS as for other women. It is important for a person with MS to avoid developing other health problems—such as obesity, diabetes or heart disease.

People with MS, however, should not "go for the burn" during exercise because overheating can trigger symptoms and worsen fatigue. Some women with MS enjoy exercising in a cool pool, but others find that the bother of driving and changing twice is too fatiguing. A physical therapist can help design an appropriate exercise program.

This content originally appeared on HealthyWomen.org.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease of the central nervous system where communication between the brain and other parts of the body is disrupted due to a break down in the insulating myelin that surrounds a person's nerve. Some type of daily exercise can be critical to the well-being of people with MS and may affect the course of their disease.

Research has shown exercise achieves significant benefits: increased mobility, strength, energy output for daily activities and social interactions; as well as decreased disability levels, depression and anger. Talk to your healthcare practitioner for recommendations. In planning, periods of exercise should be carefully timed to avoid the hotter periods of the day and prevent excessive fatigue.

Research has shown that early intervention using a physically active lifestyle may reduce how rapidly multiple sclerosis (MS) may progress (White & Dressendorfer, 2004). Research has also shown that exercise does not increase the degree or severity of this disease (Borkolesm E., Nicholls A, R., Bell, K., Butterly, R., & Polman, R., 2008).

Upon saying this, it is important to choose your mode of exercise wisely. If heat causes problems for you, like many others, a run on a 90-degree day is not going to be a smart decision for exercise. But, swimming could be a great alternative.

An individual with MS can say that there are a number of obstacles to prevent a daily exercise routine. I claim that there are many opportunities. Figure out which one works best for you – your body will thank you.

Borkolesm E., Nicholls A, R., Bell, K., Butterly, R., & Polman, R. (2008). The lived experiences of people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in relation to exercise. Psychology & Health, 23(4), 427-441.

White, L.J., & Dressendorfer, R.H. (2004). Exercise and multiple sclerosis. Sports Medicine, 34(15), 1077-1100.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.