What should I know about exercise and multiple sclerosis (MS)?

You may have heard the principles "stretch till it hurts" or "feel the burn" as they relate to exercise, but those approaches are counterproductive for people with MS. If you overdo it, you can end up straining an already compromised muscular system, increasing pain, and causing your body and mind to become overstressed, overworked, and overtired.

Check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program. He or she might make recommendations about:

  • The types of exercise best suited to you and the types you should avoid
  • The intensity of the workout (how hard you should be working)
  • The duration of your workout and any physical limitations
  • Referrals to other professionals, such as a physical therapist, who can help create a personal exercise program that meets your needs (The type of exercise that works best for you depends on your symptoms, fitness level, and overall health.)

How can I exercise safely if I have multiple sclerosis (MS)?

  • Always warm up before beginning your exercise routine, and cool down at the end.
  • If your goal is to work out for 30 minutes, start with 10-minute workout sessions and work your way up.
  • Work out in a safe environment. Avoid slippery floors, poor lighting, throw rugs, and other potential tripping hazards.
  • If you have difficulty with balance, exercise within reach of a grab bar or rail.
  • If at any time you feel sick or you begin to hurt, STOP.
  • Select an activity that you enjoy and HAVE FUN. Water aerobics, swimming, tai chi, and yoga are examples of exercises that often work well for people with MS.

What should I do if I get overheated while exercising and I have multiple sclerosis (MS)?

Some people with MS are sensitive to heat, which means they notice that their symptoms either reappear or become worse when their body temperature rises. An increase in body temperature occurs when you exercise. Here are some tips to avoid overheating:

  • Don't exercise during the hot time of the day (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.). Try to exercise in the morning or evening if you are exercising outside.
  • Drink plenty of cool fluids.
  • Become aware of your body. If you notice any symptoms that you didn't have before you began exercising, slow down or stop exercising until you cool down.
  • Swimming and water aerobics are good exercise options to keep you cool while exercising. Ask your pool manager about the temperature of the water. Ideally, it should be between 80 and 84 degrees. Also, make sure that there are non-slip floors in the locker room and around the pool.

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