What my spring training looks like with MS
A columnist shares the exercises he's doing to stretch and strengthen his body
My exercise routine was first disrupted by the pandemic. Then Hurricane Ian landed a right hook on the exercise room in my Florida community, knocking it out of action. But not long after that, my thoughts were turning to something sweeter — pitchers and catchers returning to spring training here in the Sunshine State — and I finally returned to some spring training of my own.
I’m a big believer that exercise is good for my multiple sclerosis (MS). It helps both my body and my mind. It can be aerobic or aquatic — I do both.
I’ve always exercised by myself, but this year, I joined the YMCA and hired a personal trainer. I wanted to learn what I’ve been doing right and what I’ve been doing wrong. My goal was simply to work on my upper body — arms, chest, and core — as I always had. Tabatha, my new trainer, had other ideas.
Focusing on my MS
Considering my MS and thus realizing that my legs probably needed more attention than my upper body, Tabatha started with exercises to stretch my severely tight hamstrings, stretch and strengthen my hip flexors, and strengthen my glutes. All this was intended to make it easier for me to do things like get up from a chair and stand for a longer period of time. An improvement in my walking would be icing on the cake.
“Why is it that guys always want to work their arms and chest?” Tabatha asked as she laughed.
“Maybe because I’m 74 years old and want to look like I’m 50,” I thought to myself and smiled.
Getting down to it
When you pay for something, you feel more compelled to use it, so I signed up for a series of four 30-minute sessions and scheduled them twice a week.
We first did some work with light weights, which I lifted while sitting in a chair, to strengthen my arms. But Tabatha quickly moved me to a stretching table (I call it the rack). Lying on my back, I wrap a strap around my foot, straighten my leg, and pull on the strap to lift the leg as high as I can. Then I hold it there. I feel it in my hamstring and my biceps — a two-for-one.
“OK, that’s one. Let’s do 10,” Tabatha suggested nicely. (I hate to call it a demand.) After the 10, I cross the right leg over the left to stretch my right hip muscle. Naturally, the process repeats on my left side. It’s simple but effective, and I can walk a bit better right after I do this stretch.
There’s also bridging, or raising my butt up from the mat with my knees bent so that my back forms a bridge. This helps stretch and strengthen my back and core. There are repeated chair up-and-downs — simple for a healthy person, but tough for me, even with my two canes. But it’s getting easier, and it helps my legs, glutes, and core — a three-for-one.
I’ve tried a rowing machine for an all-around workout, but found that it was too hard to position myself on its low seat. Something called a NuStep, which is a seated cross-trainer, gave me a similar workout and was much easier for me to handle.
On your own
I followed up my first four training sessions with another eight. I feel better. I stand a little straighter, when I think about doing it. I now, pretty much, know what I’m doing when I exercise.
I’m not recommending you do the exercises I’ve been doing. One size definitely doesn’t fit all, which is why I’m grateful for Tabatha’s guidance. And you don’t need to get a trainer, or even join a gym, to keep yourself in shape.
The Multiple Sclerosis Trust website has an excellent page full of exercises, designed for people with MS, that you can do at home. The ChairFit with Nancy YouTube channel also offers a series of exercise videos designed for people with MS. You can find other sites if you search.
So check with your doctor to make sure there’s no reason you shouldn’t exercise, and if you get the green light, get going. I think you’ll be glad you did.
Please share your exercise experiences in the comments section. I also invite you to visit my personal blog at www.themswire.com.
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, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.
I was first diagnosed with M.S. in the early 1980's. I was TOTALY EXHAUSTED ALL THE TIME! Chronic fatigue is one of the most common MS symptoms. Before I had MS, I found that regular exercise would give me energy and help me stay in shape. I thought that I'd like to try to exercise after the diagnosis. I needed the energy more than ever. But, back then, the doctors would tell MS patients NOT TO EXERCIZE. They said that you should save your energy for the necessary tasks of life. They also said that diet was not an effective way to handle disease. I'm SO GLAD that things are much better understood today. These days, people understand that exercise DOES help with chronic diseases; Healthy eating IS GOOD FOR EVERYONE! I feel much better when I exercise.
I remember, when I was diagnosed in 1980, the thought was we shouldn't exercise. I don't remember when that changed but I only started to make an effort to exercise about 15 years ago. I always feel better when I do.
When I go see my PT, we do these same exercises. I like you, still walk but certainly not like I used to! When I do my stretches and exercises, I feel better, too. When I walk my dogs, I actually say to myself “you’re walking better”. My challenge is finding the energy to do it consistently.
Yep, motivation is a key. Having to drive to the YMCA, even though it's only 10 minutes away, can be an excuse to skip it...which is why paying a trainer is a good thing. As I wrote, if I bought it I want to use it. And I know that, overall, using the energy to exercise results in an improvement in my energy overall.
Something which is given far too little attention is what we PwMS can do to keep our spirits up in the face of all the difficulties the disease creates. A little thing I’ve done to help is create a book called ‘MS A Funny Things (well s😊metimes!)’. It’s a collection of stories of funny things which have happened to people with MS because of our MS. Each has a brilliant illustration done by a young artist. It’s available on Amazon.com, (and other Amazon sites), on the site just type MS A Funny Thing Nigel Bartram. It’s got great reviews. All royalties go to MS charities.
Hi Nigel -
Thanks for the info. I'll have to take a look at your book. I'm especially interested in the illustrations because that's something that's lacking in the little book that I published about 16 months ago, "The Multiple Sclerosis Toolbox." It's also on Amazon.
Thank you for this wonderful article, Ed! Exercise is so important for strengthening and mood enhancement. In the pool, I feel as if I'm 16 years old again on the swim team (well, not quite, since a broken hip in 2021.). Been swimming laps at YWCA pool here since 1994. Stretching routine in bed before I get up, and again in the afternoon. And stretch band arm exercise when I can tear myself away from the computer. I'm 78 years old, diagnosed in 1984 in Houston when the MRI diagnoses were ramping up. Now SPMS and mostly in the chair. Been on Ampyra for several years (No DMT's at present.)
Hi Kathleen -
Good for you! I was diagnosed in 1980, so I have you beat there. No MRIs for me, just evoked potential tests and soaking in a hottub!
Now, I need to get up from this laptop and stretch :-). Thanks for your note,
Another good one! Thanks Ed. GO PIRATES!
Thanks, Paula. I'd say GO NATS, but I think they're already a lost cost this year.
I just wanted to thank you for your article Ed. As I too am embarking on exercises to better cope with the same challenge of stiffness (in exactly the same areas you defined), I really appreciate the benefit of your experience and advice; and I like your warm tone and subtle sarcasm too ;) . All best.
Thanks for your note. I was working with Tabatha yesterday and, at the end of the session, was walking better than when I arrived. But that level of improvement doesn't last long...which translates to "you have to keep on doing this stuff."
BTW, sarcastic is my middle name.