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. But, it's best to take an individual approach, as levels of ability can vary. 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.
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 gentler approach.
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, also may help with balance and, therefore, reduce your risk of falls.
Anyone with MS can modify an exercise routine to meet his or her needs. Just remember to work within your range of ability and not to overdo it.
Iris Marin Collazo, M.D.
May 01, 2020
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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 17, 2017.
- Latimer-Cheung AE, et al. Effects of exercise training on fitness, mobility, fatigue, and health-related quality of life among adults with multiple sclerosis: A systematic review to inform guideline development. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2013;94:1800w.
- Brown C, et al. Barriers and facilitators related to participation in aqua fitness programs for people with multiple sclerosis. International Journal of MS Care. 2012;14:132.
- Motl RW, et al. Is physical exercise a multiple sclerosis disease modifying treatment? Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics. 2016;16:951.
- Heat and temperature sensitivity. National Multiple Sclerosis Society. http://www.nationalmssociety.org/Living-Well-With-MS/Health-Wellness/Heat-Temperature-Sensitivity. Accessed April 19, 2017.