Body · Healthy Living with MS

An Impossibility? Maintaining an Exercise Routine when Chronically Ill

I worked an extra day over the summer, which means that I have an extra day off this week as lieu time – yippee!  I purposefully waited to take it once the kids were back at school.  I feel a bit guilty about this in some ways – perhaps I should have taken it off in the holidays – but I know that having a few days in a row to completely chill out and concentrate on me would do me and my MS, the world of good.

On Monday, after dropping the kids off on their first day back at school (see my thoughts on this here), Hubs and I went out for breakfast – beans on toast and OJ for me – and I then went back to bed for a nap.  A blissful, 3 hour nap.  I definitely needed it, as I woke up feeling more refreshed than I have done for a long while.  I also managed to get in a bit of yoga before the kids arrived back home and some meditation before bed.

Tuesday was even better.  As soon as the kids left, fuelled by coffee, I pulled on my trainers, which have been gathering dust under my bed, and burned a few calories.  Firstly  by jumping on my mini trampoline, aided by cheesy pop on my phone and a stability bar, then some hand weights and, finally, a yoga-esque stretching routine for my cool down, courtesy of YouTube.  Another nap (2 hours this time) and some meditation in the sun to get my vitamin D, and I felt 1000% better than I did last week.

According to the MS Society (UK), exercise can:

  • improve the overall health of people with milder MS
  • help people with more severe MS to stay as mobile and active as possible
  • help some people manage MS symptoms and decrease the risk of heart disease
  • improve muscle strength and fitness, helping with mobility or weakness problems
  • help manage weight control, especially when combined with a healthy, well-balanced diet

The MS Society and the MS Trust offer free exercise DVDs specifically for those with MS, which are worth a look at.  They feature Sally Gunnell and Mr Motivator, no less!

Exercise is also a key element of the Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis Recovery Programme, which I follow.  See this link for an overview of the benefit of exercise and how it fits into the OMS approach – I found it really interesting that regular exercise has been linked to a 50% reduction in the risk of depression in people with MS.  This is good news and a key reason to exercise – I need all the help I can get to keep my emotions and thoughts on an even keel. 

In my ‘old life’, pre-MS symptoms – I was a regular exerciser.  I loved running, gymming, work-out videos at home, anything really.  When I get the time to exercise, I feel like I am doing my body good.  Yes, I can take a long time to recover from the exercise, as raising my body temperature makes my symptoms flare further – but I relish in the feeling of working my muscles and getting stronger, even if only a tiny bit.  I have to be inventive and selective about what I can do.  My mobility difficulties mean that walking and running are out, my left leg won’t lift itself for aerobics and I feel unsafe in deep water as my legs quickly stop working.  The mini trampoline seems to work for me – for the first time in a looooong time this week I have enjoyed feeling a bit sweaty!   Yes I have to hold on to the stability bar and, yes, I can literally just jump up and down as that is all my legs seem to want me to do, but it gets my heart rate up and it feels as if I get a good workout.  Sticking to yoga work outs – albeit adapted – also really helps.  I definitely notice increased spasticity and tightness, especially in my legs – when I don’t stretch for a while.

I think the trick to exercising with MS, or any other chronic illness for that matter, is to find what works for you – anything is better than nothing.  I do feel psychologically better when I exercise, as I feel like I am doing something to help myself.  But that brings me to this: I find it so hard to stick to an exercise routine on a day to day basis, due to my fatigue levels.  I know that my working week partly contributes to this – which is why I have shifted my days about to ensure my work/home life is more balanced.  I also know that I feel so much better and in control of my MS and its symptoms when I take the time to myself, and put my health first – and for me that is sticking to the OMS programme of a low saturated fat diet with no dairy, high omega 3s, regular exercise, vitamin D and meditation.  But trying to fit everything in with work, kids and life in general is hard.  Throw in crippling fatigue and a body that doesn’t work and sometimes it feels impossible – which is why extra days off and holidays are the one time that I feel that I can truly stick to all elements of the programme (I do manage to stick to the diet consistently) and feel the benefits.

So, I would love to hear how anyone manages it; the balance between ‘normality’ – working, being a hands-on parent, trying to maintain interests and a social life – and attempting to do all the things that you know are good for you and your chronic illness.  It is something that I think about a lot and I admit that I struggle with keeping everything ticking along.  I don’t want to give up on my movie nights with Aidan, I would like to be able to spend free time playing with the kids, I would love to go out every now and then for an evening with friends, but I also want to give my body the best chance of keeping as healthy as it can be, for as long as I can.

Any hints and tips would be greatly appreciated!




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