Can Exercise Help Manage the Symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis?

by Matt Weik, BS, CSCS, CPT, CSN

Exercise has plenty of benefits for those with multiple sclerosis. It can, for instance, help improve mobility and strength and enhance mental well-being.

A few years back, doctors recommended that people with multiple sclerosis (MS) avoid excessive physical activity, believing that it could worsen fatigue and other symptoms.

However, according to recent studies, it was revealed that exercise could improve multiple sclerosis symptoms over time.

In this article, we are going to discuss some of the best exercises for multiple sclerosis and how they can be beneficial for those with the disease.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not meant to treat or diagnose any condition. If you feel you may have multiple sclerosis, it is recommended that you speak to your doctor or healthcare professional.

How Can Exercise Help Manage Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis is a disease that affects the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves. It’s characterized by symptoms such as vision loss, muscle weakness, balance problems, and difficulty with coordination.

There are medications to help manage the symptoms of multiple sclerosis, but exercise can be a great way to improve your quality of life.

Exercise helps improve balance, lower stress levels, and relieve pain associated with multiple sclerosis. It also helps build muscle strength and endurance, which can help you maintain independence with daily tasks like getting dressed or climbing stairs. Exercising regularly can also reduce fatigue, depression, and anxiety symptoms common in people living with MS.

When starting an exercise program, it’s important to talk with your doctor first about any risks associated with exercising while living with multiple sclerosis.

A systematic review published in 2019 found that aerobic exercise and physical therapy can improve many areas of life for people with multiple sclerosis, including physical symptoms, social functioning, and mental health.

The Best Exercises to Try If You Have Multiple Sclerosis

If you have multiple sclerosis, try these types of exercises:

1.      Aerobic Exercise

If you have MS, aerobic exercise may help relieve some of the symptoms of the disease, such as fatigue and muscle spasticity (tightness). Studies suggest that people with multiple sclerosis who do regular aerobic exercise have less fatigue, less pain, and better balance than those who don’t do regular aerobic exercise.

Aerobic activities include walking, cycling, swimming, and dancing. If you have problems with balance or walking, an exercise physiologist may suggest stationary cycling or aquatic jogging (even swimming).

According to a study, it was found that low-to-moderate-intensity aerobic activity can provide the following advantages to people with multiple sclerosis who have mild to moderate disability:

  • Better mood
  • Better heart health
  • Higher energy levels/less tiredness
  • Increased quality of life

2.      Strength Training

Strength training is an essential part of any exercise program and can be particularly beneficial for people with multiple sclerosis.

Strength training helps reduce muscle weakness, improve balance, and increase bone density. It can also help you lose weight.

If you have MS, strength training can help:

  • Improve overall physical fitness
  • Strengthen muscles and bones
  • Increase energy levels
  • Reduce fatigue and muscle tightness

3.      Yoga

Yoga is a good way to strengthen and tone your muscles and improve your flexibility and balance. A yoga class can help you relax and relieve stress. Yoga helps people with multiple sclerosis by improving flexibility and mobility, reducing fatigue, increasing energy levels, and improving bladder control.

A small-scale study from 2017 found that yoga was one of the six most popular complementary treatments for managing MS symptoms. In their study, the researchers found that an 8-week yoga program improved physical performance and quality of life for 14 adults with multiple sclerosis.

4.      Tai Chi

Tai chi is an ancient Chinese martial art that is practiced for its health benefits, including improved balance, flexibility, and cardiovascular fitness. It’s also been shown to improve mental health and quality of life for people with multiple sclerosis.

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Tai chi has been shown to help people with MS improve balance, reduce fatigue and increase mobility — all crucial factors for staying active and independent.

5.      Stretching: Hamstrings and Calf Stretch

The hamstrings are the muscles on the back of your thighs. The calf muscles run down the back of your lower legs. Stretching these muscles can help prevent muscle cramping in people with multiple sclerosis, who are at risk for muscle weakness and spasticity.

Stretching these muscles also helps prevent falls, which are common among people with MS. A fall could result in broken bones or other injuries, which can be very costly to treat.

6.      Water Sports

Water sports are a great way to exercise if you have MS. Swimming is particularly good because it allows you to move your limbs freely and gently without putting too much pressure on your joints. It’s also easy on your joints because water provides natural support for your body.

Water aerobics is another popular choice for people with multiple sclerosis. This type of exercise involves moving through the water while performing aerobic exercises like running or jumping jacks.