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Staying Active

Being Active with Multiple Sclerosis (MS)

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease that affects the brain and spinal cord (also together called the central nervous system). MS can cause problems with muscle control and strength, vision, balance, feeling, and thinking.

Why is it important to be active if you have MS?

It’s important to be active when you have MS because it helps you:

  • feel less tired
  • move your body
  • prevent losing strength and stamina (being able to keep up a physical or mental effort)
  • do daily activities more easily

Does being active make MS worse?

No, exercise doesn’t make MS worse. But if you have MS, you may find that you feel more tired and get overheated more quickly when you start becoming more physically active.

How often should I exercise?

If you have mild to moderate MS, the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for adults with MS recommend that adults ages 18 to 64 years old need at least:

  • 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity that makes you breathe faster and gets your heart rate up (called aerobic exercise), 2 times a week
    • This may include running, brisk walking, swimming, or riding a bike.
  • strength-training exercises for major muscles, 2 times a week
    • Strength training exercises use your body weight or weights to help make you stronger.
  • Once you’re able to do both of these exercises, 2 times a week, you can try to slowly:

    • work out harder (more intense)
    • exercise for longer amounts of time
    • exercise more often

    Are there other types of exercise I can do?

    In addition to aerobic and strength-training activities, there are many different types of physical activity and exercise that you can do when you have MS, such as:

    • walking
    • tai chi
    • yoga
    • water exercises (called aquatic exercise)
    • high-intensity interval training

    You may need to make changes (called modifications) to some of these exercises, so they are easier to do. You will have a better chance of staying physically active when you find an exercise program that:

    • you enjoy
    • is easy for you to get to and work into your schedule
    • is something you can do
    • allows you to modify the exercise, as you need
    • you can afford (if there is a cost)

    Talk to your doctor, physiotherapist, or a certified exercise professional about an exercise program that’s right for you.

    Dealing with fatigue

    Fatigue is feeling tired or exhausted. When you have fatigue, you often need to rest more because of a lack of energy or strength.

    When you become more physically active, you may feel more tired than usual. As this may prevent you from staying active, it’s important to modify exercise to help you manage fatigue. You may find it helps to:

    • use weight machines instead of free weights
    • use a walking aid such as a cane
    • take rest breaks
    • alternate between an upper body exercise and a lower body exercise
    • exercise during the part of the day when you have the most energy

    Dealing with overheating

    Uhthoff’s phenomenon causes MS symptoms to get worse as your body temperature goes up. This can lead to overheating when you exercise or do other activities that raise your body temperature, such as:

    • hot flashes
    • hot weather
    • having a hot showers or bath
    • using a sauna

    This is related to changes in the nerve coatings (called myelin sheath) that happen with MS. It’s not related to any new inflammation or worsening of MS.

    Overheating can also make fatigue worse.

    The following tips can help you keep your body cooler while you exercise:

    • Exercise at cooler times of the day.
    • Bring a water bottle or mister.
    • Dress in layers that are easy to take off, if you get too hot.
    • Use a fan or exercise in an air-conditioned room.

    More information

    Find out more about the benefits of exercise when you have MS.

Current as of: September 15, 2019

Author: Out-Patient Treatment in Multiple Sclerosis (OPTIMUS)- Alberta Health Services