MS and exercise
Your exercise questions answered
Why should I get active?
Research tells us exercise can improve your mood, mobility and muscle strength, as well as some MS symptoms.
We know staying active can:
What sort of activity should I be doing?
There's not any one activity that could be called an ‘MS exercise’. MS affects people in different ways, so what works for you might not work for someone else.
Find something you enjoy and that feels right to you, whether that's swimming, gardening or stretching.
Activities might include:
- walking, swimming, gardening or housework
- resistance or strengthening exercises (lifting or moving weights)
- aerobic exercises (such as cycling, running or rowing)
- stretching (helps keep muscles supple and relaxed)
- range of motion (moving your arms, legs, wrists and ankles in wide circular patterns)
- posture exercises help keep your feet, knees, pelvis, shoulders and head properly aligned, to reduce strain on the muscles and bones in the body
- water-based exercise. Water supports your body, reduces your risk of falls and there’s less stress on your joints and muscles.
If your situation changes, you might want to try a new sport or adjust what you do already. You could also work with a physiotherapist or occupational therapist to discover the best exercises for you. Ask your GP for a referral.
Which exercises are good for which symptoms?
Exercise can bring improvements in strength, fitness and mood – all of which might help you to manage your fatigue.
Balance and walking
Carefully designed physiotherapy programmes, outdoor walking and aerobics can help people improve your balance and walking.
Muscle spasms or stiffness
Physiotherapy, including stretching and range-of-motion exercises, is a key part of treating and managing muscle spasms or stiffness.
Yoga may also improve your flexibility and reduce muscle stiffness.
Bladder and bowel
A continence advisor, MS nurse or physiotherapist can help you with pelvic floor exercises for bladder control.
Keeping physically active may help some people with bowel control. One study found that people with MS had improvements in their bowel functions after following a 15-week course of yoga.
Low mood, anxiety or depression
T’ai Chi has also been reported to offer social and emotional benefits.
On top of this, exercise is often a good opportunity to meet new people.
Tips on starting exercise
Start slowly and don’t try to do too much, too soon. Let your body get used to the new activity and figure out which exercises are comfortable for you. Over time, you'll be able to gauge what your limits are.
Warm up with gentle stretching before you exercise. If you're doing aerobic exercise, you should start slowly, to build your heart rate gradually. To avoid muscles becoming tight and stiff, stretch to ‘cool down’ afterwards too.
Keeping cool while exercising
Many people with MS are sensitive to heat. Some people adjust the exercise they choose, while others find effective ways to stay cool and keep effects to a minimum.
Here are some practical things you can try if you are heat sensitive:
- Avoid overly hot swimming pools. Try to find a pool where the water temperature is below 29ºC
- Break up exercise sessions into smaller sections, with regular breaks
- Drinking ice drinks, wearing a ‘cooling vest’ and taking a cool bath before exercising might help you to
exercise for longer
- Keep the exercise space well ventilated. A fan might help.
Be careful if you apply ice or cold packs directly to the skin, or when using cooling garments or cold water to cool down.
MS can cause changes to the way you experience temperature. It can distort the feeling that would normally tell you when something is too hot or too cold - so take care not to damage the skin. Your GP, physiotherapist, occupational therapist or MS nurse can help make sure cooling techniques you try are not harmful.
Many local sports centres have reduced rates if you receive benefits such as Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payment.
A physiotherapist can also help you find ways to get the same physical workout at home as you might achieve in a members’ gym. In some areas, doctors prescribe exercise as well as medicines and arrange for you to exercise for free at a local fitness centre.
> Find out about Inclusive Fitness Initiatives (IFI) - local programmes that could help you access fitness.