I've been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). Is it okay to exercise?
Answer From Iris Marin Collazo, M.D.
Yes, people with MS can exercise. However, it is recommended to take an individual approach as disability in MS varies between patients. Common symptoms of MS, such as fatigue, weakness and poor coordination, may make the prospect of exercise daunting.
But some studies show that the benefits of exercise far outweigh the challenges if you have MS — as long as you remember not to overdo it and that moderation is essential. Also, regular exercise can help with obesity, which can worsen some common symptoms in MS such as fatigue, mobility, mood, sleep and more.
If you have MS, check with your doctor before starting a routine. People with MS can benefit from at least 30 minutes of physical activity at least three days a week. For someone with MS, exercise that's too aggressive can bring on severe fatigue and injury and exacerbate symptoms.
Though regular aerobic exercise can increase strength and balance, improve bowel and bladder control, and decrease spasticity related to MS, it can backfire if you don't take a gentle approach — and very vigorous exercise isn't necessary for better health. Research shows that getting even moderate exercise can offer benefits in balance, fatigue, fitness level and quality of life.
You may experience numbness, tingling or blurred vision when you start to exercise. This is due to a rise in core body temperature resulting from exertion. Typically, symptoms will ease as your body cools down. You can manage your body temperature while you exercise with a cooling garment or device.
A physical therapist or fitness instructor familiar with MS can help create a routine that fits your capabilities and addresses issues such as body temperature, poor balance, fatigue and spasticity. He or she can also assist in monitoring your pulse and breathing rate to help you pace yourself and avoid overexertion.
Pool exercise, such as water aerobics, may help with balance. Improved balance may reduce your risk of falls. Pool exercises also put less strain on the joints with less risk of overheating.
Anyone with MS can modify an exercise routine to meet their needs. Just remember to work within your range of ability and not to overdo it.
Iris Marin Collazo, M.D.
June 10, 2022
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See more Expert Answers
- Exercise as part of everyday life. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. http://www.nationalmssociety.org/Living-Well-With-MS/Health-Wellness/Exercise. Accessed April 18, 2022.
- Reynolds ER, et al. Multiple sclerosis and exercise: A literature review. Head, Neck, and Spine. doi:10.1249/JSR.0000000000000446.
- Tollar J, et al. Exercise effects on multiple sclerosis quality of life and clinical-motor symptoms. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000002228.
- Motl RW, et al. Is physical exercise a multiple sclerosis disease modifying treatment? Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics. 2016; doi: 10.1080/14737175.2016.1193008.
- Heat and temperature sensitivity. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. http://www.nationalmssociety.org/Living-Well-With-MS/Health-Wellness/Heat-Temperature-Sensitivity. Accessed April 18, 2022.