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  • Writer's pictureJulie Manley

Multiple Sclerosis and Exercise

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic progressive disease of the central nervous system, affecting over 2.5 million people worldwide, which causes various symptoms such as fatigue, pain, spasticity, memory problems, and mobility impairments. Until about 20 years ago, it was believed that symptoms of MS would worsen with physical exertion and people were encouraged to limit their physical activity.

That belief is no more! Evidence is showing that physical activity and exercise is safe for people with MS and helps ward off some of the disability that occurs in the disease due to secondary deconditioning from the sedentary lifestyle that tends to ensue after diagnosis. Inactivity in MS isn’t necessarily due to lack of interest but its own set of unique barriers, including:

  • Fatigue, which is often the first symptoms of MS

  • Impaired mobility, specifically the ability to safely and independently walk

  • Pain

  • Heat sensitivity and Uthtoff’s Sign, causing a significant increase in symptoms with physical exertion and warm environments

The good thing is, studies have been shown that slowly increasing daily physical activity – activities that get you moving like cleaning, yard work, cooking, etc – and participating in regular exercise is not only safe, but can improve some aspects of health and function in people with MS. Having trouble getting started or don’t know where to start? Physiotherapists can help adapt physical interventions that are appropriate, safe and effective for people with MS and help with managing concerns related to fatigue, heat intolerance and other impairments.

For now, here are some starter tips:

  • Start increasing your walking tolerance at the mall. The mall is a cool environment with many places to sit that offers a flat walking ground that makes using adaptive equipment a little easier (i.e., walker, cane).

  • Time your exercise. Don’t wait for the heat of the day (between 11am and 3pm) to do your exercise, do it earlier in the morning, or at night when things are a little cooler.

  • Start small. Anything is better than nothing. Try hitting 3 bouts of 10 minutes (or working up to the 10 minutes) of walking with good breaks in between, allowing yourself to cool off.

  • Like to use a treadmill? Play around with a speed that will allow you to get 10 minutes of walking before heat sensitivity sets in. But make sure that after a couple week you’re pushing your time or speed to prevent a plateau and ensure you’re still getting your heart rate up.

  • Wear light clothing that will allow your skin to breath. Heavy sweaters and pants will increase your body temperature quicker.

  • Come see us! We can start you on a program for the clinic, gym or for home.

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