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Sunday, April 4, 2021

Getting fit with multiple sclerosis - by Dave Bexfield, Patient Advocate


Getting fit with multiple sclerosis

Greetings, this just might be one of the most important emails you’ll ever get from me. Heck, it might be one of the most important emails you’ll get in EVER from ANYONE. There’s a reason why I’m talking this up. Fitness is a big deal in multiple sclerosis, and with the exception of a disease modifying therapy, it might be the BIGGEST deal. Let me explain. 

You already know how critical it is to exercise. You hear it so often it begins to sound like those trumpets when Charlie Brown’s teacher talks. WAH-WAH, WAH WAH, WAH. But hold on, you really need to listen. This isn’t just about the cascade of positives that come from getting fit (weight loss, lower risk of heart disease, better quality of life, etc.), it’s about what it can do specifically for your multiple sclerosis. MS exercise research studies—I've painstakingly collected the abstracts of over 200—have found that exercise might just be the difference maker between a fine life with MS, and a GREAT life with MS. And that begins with combatting our devilishly evil symptom #1: fatigue.

 Fatigue is routinely tabbed as the worst symptom of MS, and an estimated 80% of MSers have it in spades. And there’s no way to treat it effectively. Drugs don’t work. Extra sleep doesn’t work. Conservation of energy does little. Therapy helps… maybe. But exercise? Study after study after study says YES. And counterintuitively, the harder you work out, the less fatigue. Indeed, there’s a reason there are few fatigue posts by me on ActiveMSers. Due to a combination of exercise and luck (I must have pulled the long stick), I have virtually none. 

Another scourge of MS: wavering cognition. Dreaded cog fog. Again, drugs that specifically prevent cognitive decline are nonexistent. Other interventions, aside from effective DMTs, struggle to make a dent in cognition. But exercise? Research has shown that getting fit prevents brain shrinkage, and that exercise can help safeguard mental acuity. Critically, exercise goes a long way to preserve your personality—so you can keep being you. Again, there are few posts about cog fog on our website because I can’t speak about it personally. Is it exercise or luck? Both, I’m guessing.

And then there is this: exercise may boost neuroplasticity in MS. It may even be neuroprotective and help delay disease progression. Technically the jury is still out in this department, and research is ongoing, but just the prospect of radically altering your future with this disease should be enough for you to try as best you can to improve your fitness. 

Listen, I can’t promise you that upping your exercise routine will vanquish your fatigue, improve your memory, or slow your MS. But if it does modify even one problem area, your life will change in ways you cannot imagine. Believe me. 

How to start? I’ve got you covered, regardless of your level of disability—I do all of my exercising seated—or existing level of fatigue. ActiveMSers has published two leading guides for MSers: our comprehensive Exercise Guide and the first-ever High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) Guide for MSers. We’ve also put together a host of recommendations in every department—stretching, low impact, strength, and aerobic. 

Another key aspect of exercising is motivation. We’ve got that covered in spades, too! There is an entire section on our website dedicated to inspiration with myriad hacks to get and stay motivated from some of the best in the business. I also show you how to celebrate victories and how to accept the disabled you, especially if you’ve been used to wringing out maximum effort from your body as an athlete. 

Finally, I’ve carved out an area on the website to help you continue to pursue your active passions. Cycling, running, snowboarding, triathlon, skiing, tennis, martial arts, kayaking, horseback riding, and more. Even roller derby! You’ll read about how other MSers are moving mountains (and climbing them!) to squeeze every ounce of fun out of living with a chronic illness. And getting fit.

I could write a book about exercising with MS (heck, combine all of this and I pretty much already have) but that’ll have to wait. And you can probably guess why. It’s time for my daily workout! Be active, stay fit, and keep exploring!


Dave Bexfield     www.activemsers.org

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