Regular exercise is important for several reasons: It improves cardiovascular health, helps improve strength and endurance, can help relieve MS-related fatigue and manage spasticity, and is a factor in stabilising mood.
According to Dr Yvonne Learmonth, an accredited physiotherapist who specialises in physical activity research in MS, many of the symptoms associated with MS are reduced through physical exercise.
“Exercise is a great way for everyone to stay strong, control weight, improve fitness and ward off chronic disease,” explains Dr Learmonth. “While managing the consequences of MS, exercise represents a crucial tool and is an important approach for improving health and wellness.”
But what do you do on those days you don’t want to get out of bed, let alone exercise? Here are some tips for taking those first steps and building them into your routine.
- Start small:
Exercise has terrific benefits for mental health. Even one hour of exercise spread across your week will make you feel better and is the perfect way to start.
- Set your expectations:
It’s important to realise that exercise won’t work miracles and that it shouldn’t take the place of professional help. If you’re exercising while depressed, or just when you’re coming out of a depressive episode, don’t expect too much from yourself.
Once on track with exercise, you may still have up and down days, but eventually, you’ll get to the point where the down days are fewer and further between.
- Share the journey:
Exercising with a friend is always a good idea. Locking in plans keeps you accountable and it might mean you get to see someone you have been meaning to make time for.
You might even turn the exercise session into a way to talk to that person about how you’re getting on, how you’re feeling, and maybe getting some advice from this person that you’re walking with.
- Keep it at your level:
If you’re exercising while you might be feeling a little bit down as well, it’s probably best to try and stick to exercises you are familiar with rather than trying something new. This can be a good way to gain back some confidence that may have faded when your mood took a hit.
- Make it enjoyable:
It’s much easier to get started on an exercise program if you do things that you enjoy, so if you don’t enjoy group sports, for example, don’t join a football team.
Another idea is to exercise in places that have provided you with pleasure in the past, maybe your favourite beach, or a childhood park.
- Celebrate your wins:
Finally, remember to reward yourself. After all, you have done something great for yourself, why not recognise that effort? Your reward can be anything, from watching a movie to reading a chapter from your favourite book.
Remember, if you haven’t exercised much in the past, get a physical and the all-clear from your medical practitioner before getting started.
- Engaging the MS Community to Promote Exercise (MS Research Australia)
- Exercise and mobility (MS Queensland)
- Exercise and MS (MS Australia)
- Exercise is Medicine Australia
- Find an Accredited Exercise Physiologist (Exercise and Sports Science Australia)
- Find an Accredited Physiotherapist (Australian Physiotherapy Association)