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September 27, 2022

Exercise for People with Multiple Sclerosis

by PNI Experts

For people with MS, exercise and physical activity can be variously challenging. However, being physically active is one of the most beneficial adaptations to a lifestyle with MS.

Symptoms improved by exercise can include

  • Fatigue
  • Spasticity
  • Depression
  • Weakness and balance issues
  • Cognitive impairment

It is important that regardless of where they are in the course of the disease, research shows that people with MS should move for at least 150 minutes per week.

Activities can be adapted for each individual, with tiered recommendations that accommodate all physical condition and ability levels. For example, activities can range from running and assisted range-of-motion activities for the physically capable, to lifting weights, to muscle stimulation and breathing exercises for those who are unable to get out of bed.

Consider integrating exercise into your regimen to improve and maintain quality of daily life.

Aerobic Activity

Schedule 20-60 minutes of aerobic activity a day to work major muscles and increase heart rate. Exercise time can be split across the day and among different structured and unstructured activities. For example, unstructured activity could include taking a walk or run with the dog, cycling, swimming, climbing the stairs, dancing, playing with children, or cleaning the house. Structured exercise can involve doing an online or studio workout class.

Mindful Movement

a person exercising

Mind-body exercise such as tai chi, yoga, dance, or other therapeutic movement help stretch out tight muscles and increase flexibility, reduce stress, and help improve cognitive and psychological well-being. This movement can be added two to three times a week, either instead of, or in addition to, higher-intensity aerobic exercise.

Strength Training

Adding resistance training such as lifting weights to your exercise routine, can help build and maintain muscle strength and bone density. A mix of 10 to 30 minutes of aerobic and 10 to 30 minutes of resistance training daily is a good option for variety.

Cognitive Stimulation

Learning something new not only benefits physical well-being, but also stimulates brain health. As you master a new movement, you pay more attention to your coordination which adds novelty while making cognitive and physical demands on your brain and body. Examples can include dancing, boxing, or even a new sport move like a tennis or golf swing. These can be integrated into your current routine or allocated a specific time during the week, for example 30 minutes of dance on a Wednesday.

Temperature Control

To avoid flare-ups, it is important to keep your body temperature regulated as many people with MS are sensitive to heat. Using a fan or keeping a cold wet towel or some ice chips close at hand during your workout, can help prevent overheating.

Paying Attention to Your Body

It is recommended that you adjust your routine as your cognitive and physical condition fluctuates. On good days, more strenuous exercise can be invigorating while on challenging days, gentle movement can be helpful.

About Dr. Barbara Giesser

Barbara S. Giesser, MD, FAAN, FANA, is an internationally recognized clinician and award-winning educator who has specialized in the care of persons with Multiple Sclerosis since 1982.

Barbara Giesser, MD

At the Brain Health Center at Pacific Neuroscience Institute in Santa Monica, CA, her approach to the diagnosis and management of people with MS combines state of the art diagnostics and a personalized medication plan for each patient with an emphasis on integrating lifestyle and wellness strategies into the neurologic treatment plan.

Clinic Location

1301 20th St #150
Santa Monica, CA 90404

About the Author

PNI Experts

Last updated: December 6th, 2022