Multiple Sclerosis and Exercise- When I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis it is safe to say that I was out of shape. I had been, at different points in my life, extremely athletic. At other points I was extremely sedentary. In addition I was a social smoker and a drinker. The recipe for success wasn’t good.
After the attack which hit me on Remembrance Day of 2006, I wasn’t really able to walk or move for a number of weeks. One of the major lesions which was created during the attack was on one of my ocular nerves. It caused me to lose control and focus in my left eye for several weeks and severely impaired my vision. I stayed with my parents during this period of time, however, I was left by myself during the day. Reading wasn’t possible and watching TV wasn’t great either. However, I would lay on the couch and watch Seinfeld; I wouldn’t actually watch it, but rather listen to the audio and picture the episodes in my head.
When my mother would come home from work, she’d take me out for a walk; this is when I began the notice the positive, yet subtle, affects of exercise on my condition. She had to come with me because of my vision and my weak balance. We would have been quite the pair to see; a 250 lbs man being lead by the arm by his 5’7″ mother in the middle of an Edmonton winter. However, the way I felt after each walk was invaluable.
Once I returned home and was able to watch after myself again, I continued to walk. I wasn’t cleared to return to work, so it gave me something to do everyday. It was still winter and often very cold, but needed to do something. I had to keep moving.
To get out of traffic, and because it was peaceful, I would walk down the middle of the frozen Sturgeon River across from my home. The route took me through to downtown St. Albert and then up the hill past the Old School and then past the St. Albert Catholic Church. My maternal grandmother is buried in the cemetery there. Altogether it was roughly 3-4 kms everyday.
These walks continued into the spring and once the snow melted, I started to run short distances. At first, I could barely run a kilometre without wanting punch myself in the face for doing something so stupid. However, the runs became easier and I noticed that while I was running and my heart rate was elevated, my numbness seemed to subside. The times where I ran each day gave me a brief reprieve from feeling like a sick person, in fact, I felt better than I did before the diagnosis. Of course the numbness would always return a few hours after my runs, but those moments of feeling normal were (and still are) amazing.
I will admit that to this day, I have to force myself to exercise. The lethargy and low energy levels that MS leaves me with make it a choice of will . I will also admit that at various times since 2007, I have stopped exercising for months at a time. It is a constant battle.
As I continued to run, the distances became longer and longer until the point where I ran my first half-marathon in 2009. I can honestly say I would have never thought I would have run a marathon; I have now completed three.
I try and make exercise part of my life whenever possible. I have also started downhill mountain biking once again; it was a sport I enjoyed in my youth but faded away from. One of my favourite spots is the Kicking Horse Mountain in Golden, BC.
Along with the diet I follow, I can’t make the claim that exercise will do anything for your MS. All I can do is report my experience. Subjective information like this is far from scientific, but it has value nonetheless. Anyone afflicted with MS has to make their own choices and do their own research and decide what is right for them. I offer this information as a point of reference for other people with MS and not to replace the recommendations and instructions of your doctors.
For blog posts related to exercise, click ‘category’ on the right hand side and select ‘exercise’ from the drop down menu.
- Consult your doctor before starting any exercise program. I’m not a doctor or personal trainer.
- Find something you enjoy doing, like walking, and keep doing it. Constantly challenge yourself to go farther and faster.
- Accept where you are right now. It doesn’t matter how fast you can walk or run, it only matters that you do it!
- Stretch- learning some basic Yoga postures is best
- Rest when you need to rest. Don’t over do it!
- Drink plenty of water. Avoid sports drinks.
- Have fun.