How to exercise in the new normal

Learn about the benefits of exercising when living with MS and discover ways of staying active at home that are tailored to your MS and physical ability.

 COVID 19 · Article

The emergence of COVID-19 this year has brought many challenges. A survey assessing the impact of COVID-19 on multiple sclerosis (MS) care found that issues with exercising to be one of the main problems that people have faced. 

45% of patients cited the maintainence of normal exercise as something they have struggled with this year.

There is no doubt that COVID-19 has made exercising harder. You may have been confronted with restricted access to gyms and leisure centres, or maybe you’ve been choosing to spend more time at home to avoid unnecessary trips out where you might risk being exposed to the virus. 45% of patients cited the maintainence of normal exercise as something they have struggled with this year.

20% of people living with MS have said that not having enough contact with their physiotherapist or physical therapist since the start of the pandemic has been one of their main challenges.

And if you receive physical therapy for your MS, you may have had difficulty in accessing this care during the pandemic. In fact, 20% of people living with MS have said that not having enough contact with their physiotherapist or physical therapist since the start of the pandemic has been one of their main challenges.

However, a lack of exercise has implications on both your physical and mental health. It’s important that we all try to remain as active as we can in this ‘new normal’. And this is where we are here to help!

    In the past, people with MS have often avoided physical exertion in fear that it might worsen their condition. However, there are many benefits, both physical and mental, to exercising with MS.

    Exercise may help to improve your strength, balance, mobility, and bladder and bowel symptoms. And although fatigue is often the symptom that prevents people with MS from exercising, studies have shown that by engaging in exercise, you can actually bring down your levels of fatigue.

    Exercise can also help to improve your cardiovascular fitness and help you to maintain a healthy weight. This can reduce your risk of developing weight-related diseases, as well as lowering the impact that some MS symptoms, such as pain, might have on your quality of life with MS.

    On top of the physical benefits, it’s important to also remember the positive effect that exercise can have on your brain. In addition to lifting mood and easing symptoms of anxiety and depression, doing some exercise can also help to improve your cognitive function.

    Take a look at some other things you can do

    You should talk to your doctor before starting any physical activity to make sure that the exercise you do is tailored to your MS, as you may risk exacerbating your symptoms if you overexert yourself. Try setting some exercise goals to share with your healthcare team. They can offer you the support you need and help keep you on track to achieve them.

    Get exercising!

    With restricted access to sport and recreation facilities this year, staying active has been a struggle for many. You should keep in mind that exercise doesn’t have to be an intense workout to offer you benefits. There’s a wide variety of activities that you can do safely at home to keep moving and maintain a healthy level of fitness during this ‘new normal’.

    Take a look at the home exercise ideas we’ve compiled below. Grouped by difficulty, there should be something suitable for everyone! 

    Beginner exercises

    These exercises are most suitable if you’re new to exercising or for those who experience some problems with mobility, but anyone can give them a go. Don’t worry if you need to adapt them to suit your ability.

    Balance on one leg

    Exercise 1: Balance on one leg

    1. Stand firmly on a stable surface, then slowly lift one leg so you’re left standing on the other
    2. Then change to the opposite leg
    3. If you want to increase the level of difficulty, try standing on a less stable surface, such as a rolled up towel, or throw a ball into the air and catch it again during the exercise

    The objective of this exercise is to improve your balance and increase awareness of the whole body, with a particular focus on strengthening 
    your core.

    Simple yoga

    Exercise 2: Simple yoga
    Yoga can be tricky, but there are gentle yoga exercises that you can do to both relax and strengthen your muscles.

    The MS Society has created some yoga videos that you can follow on YouTube. Created specifically for people with MS, these short demonstrations are provided by Laura, a yoga teacher who lives with MS herself. Get started here.

    Everyday activities

    Exercise 3: Everyday activities
    In addition to the above exercises, try incorporating more physical activity into your daily routine. Here are some ideas:

    Take a walk – a great way of getting out of the house without coming into contact with others. Try slowly increasing the distance each time you go out!
    Gardening – when the weather’s nice, gardening is a fantastic way to keep moving and get some fresh air.
    Household chores – chores may be boring, but a touch of hoovering or scrubbing down the bathroom can get really get your heart rate going (and you’ll have a sparkling clean home to show for it!)

    Intermediate exercises

    These exercises are suitable if you already keep relatively active and you’re looking to increase your strength.

    Elbow balance

    Exercise 1: Elbow balance

    This exercise requires an exercise ball. Don’t worry if you don’t have one – you can always use a soft chair instead.

    • While kneeling, support your elbows with a bend of about 90 degrees on your exercise ball or chair
    • Your stomach and thighs should form a straight line as far as possible so that the hips are stretched and your weight is spread between your elbows and knees
    • If you have an exercise ball, try moving it about with your elbows to create an imbalance and strengthen your muscles further

    The objective of this exercise is to improve your sense of balance and strengthen the muscles in your arms, shoulders, core and back.

    Russian twist

    Exercise 2: Russian twist

    1. Sit on the floor and bend your legs with your feet flat on the ground in front of you 
    2. Take an object that’s easy to hold - for example a large ball - with both hands
    3. Keeping your arms extended, guide the object alternately to the right and left towards the floor by rotating your trunk 
    4. To increase the level of difficulty, place a rolled up towel between your knees and press it together strongly to increase the tension in your abdominal muscles, try completing the exercise with your feet raised off the floor or increase the object weight you hold

    The objective of this exercise is to strengthen your muscles. You should be able to feel it working your arms, legs, core and back.

    Pelvic lift

    Exercise 3: Pelvic lift

    1. Lie on your back on a comfortable surface, bend your knees and place your feet hip-width apart on the floor 
    2. Keeping your arms straight and hands palm down on the floor, slowly raise your hips so that your upper body and thighs form a straight line
    3. When your hips are raised, tense and relax your glutes and pelvic floor muscles 2 to 3 times before lowering your hips back down to the floor
    4. To increase the difficulty, press a rolled towel between your knees during the exercise to increase the tension in your core

    The objective of this exercise is to strengthen the muscles in your bottom, the back of your thighs, and your back and core.

    Advanced exercises

    These exercise ideas are for those of you who are already active, looking to improve your fitness and are seeking a challenge!

    Run / Cycle

    Exercise 1: Run / Cycle

    Going out for a run or a cycle ride can be a great way to staying active and increasing your fitness with MS. It’s also a great opportunity to get out in the fresh air and explore your local surroundings. Change your speed and the distance you cover based on your ability and as you improve. And if COVID-19 restrictions allow, why not take a friend or member of your family with you?

    Run / Cycle

    Exercise 2: Dance workouts

    Listening to music can help to stimulate your brain and improve cognitive processes, so it works as a fantastic addition to your workouts. Dancing is a fun way of keeping fit and as well as yielding the benefits of music, it can also help to improve your coordination and rhythm! Zumba is perhaps the most well-known dance workout, but there are plenty of options available for you to get stuck into. Search online to find a home dance workout that suits you.

    Using technology to help keep fit

    But if you’re looking for activities that will help to improve your cardiovascular fitness, we’re lucky now that technology offers many opportunities to stay active and keep fit from home.

    There are many fitness apps out there that provide structured workout programmes and exercise demonstrations for you to follow. You can even choose one that’s most appropriate for your fitness level. If you’re looking for intensity, there’s really no limit to how far you can push yourself.

    YouTube is another great resource where qualified instructors post free workout videos. From yoga to cardio fitness, you’re sure to find something that’s right for you. 

    What are you waiting for? Set yourself some exercise goals, no matter how big or small, to begin your journey to becoming more active today.

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