WHAT IS MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS (MS)?
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is an auto-immune condition primarily characterised by the loss of the nerve conducting sheath termed myelin surrounding cells (neurons) within the brain, optic nerves and spinal cord. Over time, most individuals with MS experience a progressive loss of function both in their motor skills (ability to walk, balance, and coordinate movements) and non-motor functions (cognition, sensation, fatigue, mood regulation), with unique symptoms present in each individual it affects. MS is one of the most common neurological conditions in the world, affecting over 25,000 Australians and over 2 million people worldwide.
HOW CAN EXERCISE HELP MS?
Participating in regular exercise can assist in combating the decline of function experienced in MS by providing the body with a stimulus to encourage the adaptability of many of the body’s systems. This includes protecting the function of the brain, nerves and spinal cord in addition to promoting strength, endurance, reducing spasticity, preserving mobility, balance, improving regulation of mood, cognition, memory and quality of life. Exercise can also help to reduce symptoms of fatigue, improve sleep, promote cardiovascular, organ and bone health and help avoid secondary complications associated with the unique and often restricting symptoms of MS. Importantly, there are a number of things to be aware of when exercising with MS. Due to changes in the body’s thermoregulatory mechanisms some individuals may find they are sensitive to heat and may become fatigued more quickly than usual. As a result, it is recommended that individuals with MS keep cool and well hydrated during exercise sessions, wear breathable clothing, seek cooler environments (air-conditioning, indoors, pool) and utilise the shade where possible. Breaking up exercise sessions into smaller blocks can also help reduce symptoms of fatigue during completion or the use of a wet towel across the back of the neck. Whilst heat sensitivity may affect each individual differently, be sure to trial and error to find which exercise strategies work best.
WHAT TYPES OF EXERCISE?
Currently, it is recommended that each individual with MS strive to build toward the Physical Activity Guidelines for MS. This includes:
- 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity twice per week (e.g. walking, cycling, dance) where breathing becomes more difficult, however you can still hold a conversation but not sing.
- Strengthening exercises targeting the major muscle groups (calves, legs, abdominals and arms) twice per week (e.g. weights, home exercises, pilates).
Thankfully, there are many styles of exercise that have been shown to be effective for the management of MS when performed regularly. These include, but are not limited to;
- Resistance training,
- Walking or hiking,
- Swimming or hydrotherapy;
- Home exercises,
- Tai chi, and
HOW CAN WE HELP YOU?
Our exercise physiologists will complete a comprehensive assessment to ensure exercise prescription is safe, and individualised to your conditions and needs. We offer a range of services including but not limited to:
- Gym-based exercise therapy
- Home-based exercise therapy
- Group sessions
It is recommended that you to speak with your general practitioner or specialist prior to commencing an exercise program.