Why I Take My MS to the Gym

Why I Take My MS to the Gym

I rode a recumbent bike for 15 minutes today. That’s a record for me, and it felt great. The bike ride was part of an overall exercise routine that I’ve set up for myself at the gym.

It mirrors what I was doing about 15 years ago, when I was still working full-time. That routine was set up with the help of a personal trainer, and it includes upper-body work using a universal machine and some dumbbells.

But after exercising twice a week for about a year, I lost easy access to exercise equipment and gave it up. Swimming some laps in July and August was pretty much all that I’d been doing up until last January. Then, the combination of snowbirding in Florida and a well-equipped exercise facility got me going again.

Not only do I feel better physically, I have less fatigue, I feel sharper overall, and my mood is better (as my wife can confirm). Doctors say this isn’t surprising, and dozens of studies listed on the ActiveMSers website support this assessment. (ActiveMSers, incidentally, is an excellent resource for information about staying in motion).

There’s an exercise for almost everyone with MS.

MS and marathons
Cheryl Hile in Capetown, South Africa. (Courtesy of Cheryl Hile)

Some people with MS have much greater ability than me and can do a lot more. I’ve written about marathoner Cheryl Hile before. Wearing a brace on her right leg, Cheryl has run marathons on every continent.

There’s also April Hester. With her husband, April hikes hundreds of miles over rugged mountain trails.

Others have a harder time getting around. Jamie, who writes the Multiple Experiences blog, has much more difficulty walking than I do. She has worked with a personal trainer who came to her home, but Jamie’s real thing is swimming.

The Multiple Sclerosis Trust, in the U.K., has a really useful webpage loaded with information about exercises that are designed for MS. Many of them can be done sitting. YouTube also has a ton of exercise videos.

Some of my MS exercise hints:

  • Stay cool. Whether you crank up the air conditioning or wear a cooling scarf or vest, do what you need to do to keep your body temperature from increasing too much. Warming up can really slow you down.
  • Stay hydrated. For me, water equals energy; it helps me feel sharp. Too many people with MS stay away from water due to bladder issues, but exercise can dehydrate you quickly. In a gym or an exercise room, a restroom is always nearby.
  • Stretch before you exercise. Stretch after you exercise.
  • Listening to music or an interesting podcast can reduce boredom and help the time pass. I like to use a full, wireless headset synced to my iPhone. The full headset avoids the problem of those little iPhone-type plugs falling out of my ears, and there is no cord to get in the way. It also blocks out distracting background noise and really allows me to enjoy what I’m hearing, which makes the exercise more enjoyable.

Of course, you should check with your doctor before starting any kind of exercise. After you get the OK, all you probably need to get going is a little motivation. I hope this column has provided some of that.

Please share any exercise hints you have or let us all know if you’ve started your own exercise routine.

You’re invited to follow my personal blog at www.themswire.com.

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Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.

Ed Tobias is a retired broadcast journalist. Most of his 40+ year career was spent as a manager with the Associated Press in Washington, DC. Tobias was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1980 but he continued to work, full-time, meeting interesting people and traveling to interesting places, until retiring at the end of 2012.
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Ed Tobias is a retired broadcast journalist. Most of his 40+ year career was spent as a manager with the Associated Press in Washington, DC. Tobias was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1980 but he continued to work, full-time, meeting interesting people and traveling to interesting places, until retiring at the end of 2012.
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20 comments

  1. Mer says:

    I wanted to start PT for my balance and strength. My second day my strength peetered out, and my body hurt. I hope you are young when diagnosed. UAE your body all you can. I wish I did that when I was young.
    Be well and stay cool.

    • Ed Tobias says:

      Hi Mer,

      I was 32 years old when I was diagnosed. That was in 1980! I’ve had PT off and on since then, mostly to help me stretch my hip flexor muscles. It definitely helps. I’m now almost 71 and think that PT can still help my balance and increase my walking distance and speed.

      It’s not unusual for you to hurt and be tired after PT. That’s why I would only do it once or twice a week. Your body needs time to recover but you can build up your strength over time.

      Good luck,

      Ed

  2. Greg Bond says:

    I like yoga, walking and rowing, which is a good cardio and whole body workout that’s especially suited for those with balance issues, joint issues or walking difficulties. There’s also the MS Gym that Trevor Wicken does on Facebook and YouTube, excellent to address specific issues.
    Important thing is to keep moving no matter how little
    Remember ANY exercise is better than NO exercise.

    • Ed Tobias says:

      Hi Greg,

      Thanks for the comments. I tried yoga a few times but had a hard time getting into it. I’m not really sure why. And I keep getting emails from the MS Gym, but haven’t yet moved ahead with that.

      The bottom line, as you indicate, is whatever works is the best way to go.

      Ed

  3. Sherri says:

    I’ve been riding a recumbent bike at the YMCA the past few weeks. I’ve started doing a 30 minute workout, with a 10 minute cool down. I try to get at least five days of workouts in a week per my cardiologist’s instructions. I think the next time I go in to the YMCA, I’ll ask for a box fan to put over by me so I don’t overheat. At least I bring water with me while I exercise, which allows me to cool down a little during and after my routine.

    On days I don’t feel like getting to the gym, I turn on YouTube and do my workouts at home (like this morning). The link you provided above are the ones I’ve already subscribed to. I really like them, and highly encourage everyone with MS who can’t get to a gym to do some form of activity. The great thing about the MS videos is it’s geared for everyone, regardless of mobility.

    You are right, Ed; exercising has helped with my fatigue and mood like it has yours. My goal is to help improve the ejection fraction of my heart since I was recently diagnosed with cardiomyopathy. Hopefully there’s some improvement by the end of August when I have another echocardiogram. I’m keeping my fingers crossed and thinking good thoughts.

    • Ed Tobias says:

      Sounds like you’re really doin’ it, Sherri. Good for you.

      BTW, yesterday I worked up to 17 minutes on the bike. My next session I’ll be aiming for 20. (The bike has a built-in fan which is really great).

      Keep it up and best of luck turning around the cardiac problem,

      Ed

      • Sherri says:

        Thanks, Ed!

        I wish my Precor recumbent bike had a fan. It does have a great selection of music channels to pick from, though. I don’t know about you, but there’s just something about putting on a good classic rock station and peddling away. I’ve had a few millennials look at me funny while I was working out. I’m sure they were wondering what song I was lip syncing to. lol

        Good job on increasing your time, Ed. You’re working it, too.

        Sherri

        • Ed Tobias says:

          Yep. Classic rock from my iTunes collection, or 1950s jazz. Recently, I’ve discovered Podcasts. They’re great for the bike because I can really get wrapped up in them and the time on the bike flies.

          Ed

  4. Andrea cox says:

    I am fortunate enough to have a basement. That is where our treadmill is. Between the coolness of the basement and a oscillating fan I can get a walk in. If needed there is a recliner in the basement too where I can rest up before climbing the stairs again.

  5. Sarah says:

    Hi Ed,
    I am a 57 year old MS’er in the secondary progressive stage after only 6 years. I need to use two canes/walking sticks and a FES device (Bioness 300) when I leave the house.

    I agree with you about the necessity of exercising as much as possible. My motto is “do what you can, when you can”.

    I’ve found that water aerobics is the best exercise for me. I try to participate in a 1 hour class 3 X per week. I am working out in cool water so I don’t overheat often and if I do, dunking my head usually does the trick. My class consists of a 10 min warm-up and stretch, 20 mins of aerobics, 20 minutes of strength training, and a 10 minute cool-down which incorporates balance and stretching. I can do so many of the things I am unable to do on land anymore. Thanks to the buoyancy of water, I can run, jump, and skip during my workouts. It feels glorious!

    I do get fatigued, and am not able to do anything too taxing the rest of the day, but I am convinced it is the reason I am still able to walk on land.

    If you have access to a water aerobics class, give it a go!

    • Ed Tobias says:

      That sounds like a great program, Sarah.

      I do some walking in the pool, in addition to regular swimming, but I haven’t found a water aerobics class. On the other hand, as I’ve written, I think I make up for that with the exercises I do in the gym.

      Another thing that I loved, but I no longer live close to a place where it’s available, is therapeutic horseback riding. That was the best, all-around, body conditioner that I’ve found.

      Ed

  6. Paulin Phelps says:

    I am so glad that I read your column today. I have just reached the age of 70, two of my friends who I used to attend exercise classes with died during the past year. So to read about ways to keep on exercising was just what I needed. Thank you!

    • Ed Tobias says:

      Hi Paulin,

      I, too, have had friends within two or three years of my age die recently. So, I’m very glad that what I wrote has resonated with you.

      Just remember, 70 is the new 40!

      Ed

  7. Courtney says:

    I’m glad to see that I’m not the only MS’er that “takes their MS to the gym”. I started going about 2 years ago with hopes of regaining strength I’ve lost, keep the strength I have, and hopes to keep my legs strong. I am 36 years old and was diagnosed when I was about 25. This is my first time joining and going to a gym. I am fortunate enough to still be able to work full-time; although because of that I am only able to go to the gym on days off. After the work day, I am far too wiped out. I find that I look forward to going; just zoning out with my headphones on. It most definitely helps my state of mind and I enjoy feeling the “good” kind of pain after. I would much rather be in pain from working out than in pain from MS. 🙂

  8. Ancois says:

    There is exercise for all. Your personality, interests and capabilities will determine that. I don’t have MS but I do physical therapy. You need cardio, strength ,flexibility and balance. Trampoline exercise also called rebound can help with all of the above and more….including lymph detox! Start with health bounce and gradually increase.

    • Ed Tobias says:

      Hi Ancois,

      Thanks for mentioning trampoline exercise. I’ve never thought of that but I can see how it would be great for some people. I’ll have to look into it further.

      Ed

  9. Nicholas Brown says:

    I’m glad that the need to keep exercising with MS is now being highlighted in the mainstream. I believe it is really important to keep moving with any stage of the disease. I’m 42 years diagnosed and have found that exercise has been of exceptional value, not only in keeping me fit enough to resist, and recover from, relapses, but also in maintaining that positive mental attitude which is an imperative with MS. While I had been pretty active throughout, I started a rigorous training regime with a personal trainer some 10 years back and have since taken up climbing mountains (ok, relatively easy ones so far) and hiking ultra marathons. There are always some work-arounds that have to be used to accommodate my poor balance, lousy proprioception and unreliable left leg, and that normally causes a great deal of hilarity – for a long while my trainer and I were the cabaret at my gym as I fell off pieces of equipment. I have now relinquished my quest to stand on a swiss ball – it just isn’t going to happen! Instead I give myself a fresh challenge each year and am just back from climbing the Inca Trail in Peru.

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