According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, multiple sclerosis is believed to affect more than 2 million people in the world and 400,000 people in the United States. It is characterized by being a chronic, typically progressive disease involving damage to the sheaths of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, whose symptoms may include numbness, impairment of speech and of muscular coordination, blurred vision, and severe fatigue.
Here’s a detailed look at MS, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society:
“Multiple sclerosis (MS) involves an immune-mediated process in which an abnormal response of the body’s immune system is directed against the central nervous system (CNS), which is made up of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. The exact target that the immune cells are sensitized to attack remains unknown, which is why MS is considered by many experts to be “immune-mediated” rather than “autoimmune.”
- Within the CNS, the immune system attacks myelin— the fatty substance that surrounds and insulates the nerve fibers — as well as the nerve fibers themselves.
- The damaged myelin forms scar tissue (sclerosis), which gives the disease its name.
- When any part of the myelin sheath or nerve fiber is damaged or destroyed, nerve impulses traveling to and from the brain and spinal cord are distorted or interrupted, producing a wide variety of symptoms.
- The disease is thought to be triggered in a genetically susceptible individual by a combination of one or more environmental factors.
- People with MS typically experience one of four disease courses, which can be mild, moderate or severe.
In addition to being essential to general health and well-being, exercise is helpful in managing many MS symptoms. A study published by researchers at the University of Utah in 1996 was the first to demonstrate the benefits of exercise for people with MS. Those patients who participated in an aerobic exercise program benefited from:
- better cardiovascular fitness
- improved strength and endurance
- better bladder and bowel function
- less fatigue and depression
- a more positive attitude
- increased participation in social activities
Additional studies have confirmed the benefits of exercise, including improvement in cognitive function and mood enhancement. Inactivity in people with or without MS can result in numerous risk factors associated with coronary heart disease. In addition, it can lead to weakness of muscles, decreased bone density with an increased risk of fracture, and shallow, inefficient breathing. An exercise program needs to fit the capabilities and limitations of the individual. It may need to be adjusted as changes occur in MS symptoms. A physical therapist experienced with MS can be helpful in designing, supervising and revising an exercise program. Any person with MS who is initiating a new exercise program should also consult with a physician before starting. Periods of exercise should be carefully timed to avoid the hotter periods of the day and prevent excessive fatigue. With some guidelines, an exercise program can help maintain good health.”
Exercises such as those using a Total Gym are ideal as the exercise can be done indoors in a temperature controlled environment and can be done at your own pace. On days you feel good and have a lot of energy you can push yourself a bit harder and do a few more reps. On days when you don’t feel up to doing too much, you can lower the reps or cut back the resistance which will allow you to modify your routine to meet your needs. The bottom line is to do something every day that moves your body, and that will keep your spirits up and help you manage the daily ebbs and flows of your condition. The biggest thing to remember is that just because you have MS doesn’t mean your body needs to stop feeling good. Staying active will definitely help you keep in the best condition possible. And as always, check with your doctor to makes sure exercise is advisable for you.
Until next time…here’s to the best of your heath
Elizabeth Salada MD, MPH
Internal Medicine and Wellness