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  • Writer's picturejames tantau

Benefits of exercise for Multiple Sclerosis

It’s World Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Day! The 30th of May is an internationally recognised day

of raising awareness for everyone effected by MS, sharing stories and campaigning for

change. The theme of this year’s World MS Day is diagnosis- navigating MS together. This

campaign aims to advocate for early and accurate diagnosis for everyone living with MS.

Highlighting global barriers and calling for additional funding to train healthcare

professionals and conduct new research and clinical advancements for diagnosis.

(World MS Day, 2024)


What is MS?

MS is a chronic disease of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). It is caused

when an individual’s immune systems mistakenly damage a fatty material called myelin that insulates nerves. The loss of myelin affects the way nerves conduct electrical impulses to and from the brain. The breakdown of myelin during an MS attack is called demyelination, where patches of nerves become exposed and scarred. Symptoms of MS can vary, however, common symptoms include loss of motor function, loss of sensation, impaired balance, pain, vision and memory changes.

- There are more than 33,000 people in Australia living with MS

- The average age of diagnosis in Australia is between 20-40 years

- 3 out of 4 Australians that are diagnosed with MS are women

(MS Australia, 2024)


How does Exercise help with MS?

Research suggests that many symptoms associated with MS can be reduced through

physical activity such as:

- Reduce fatigue and increase energy levels

- Improve muscular strength

- Improve balance and coordination/ reduce risk of falls

- Improve mood, well-being and cognition

- Optimise symptoms of recovery after an MS relapse.

Sedentary behaviour may also exacerbate symptoms such as fatigue, decreased strength

and poor sleep. Being inactive also increases the risk of developing other chronic health

conditions.

(MS Australia, 2024)


Exercise Guidelines

- Research suggests a combination of aerobic, resistance, balance and stretching

exercises are the most beneficial for people with MS.

- 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise (eg: walking, swimming, cycling) 2 times

per week and strength-based exercise (eg: body weight, free weights, machines and

reformer Pilates) 2 times per week is recommended.

- People with an advanced level of fitness and who want to see greater benefits can

participate in moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise 5 times per week and resistance

training 2-to 3 times per week.

- For strength-based exercise, slowly building up to 2 sets of 10-15 repetitions is

optimal. Focusing on the lowering phase of the movement.

- For those with more severe disability; breathing exercises, flexibility exercises and

general exercises of the arms and legs for up to 20 minutes a day 3-7 days per week

is optimal.

((MS Australia, 2024), (Exercise is Medicine Australia, 2020), (Exercise Right))

- Research suggests that exercise does not exacerbate MS symptoms. However,

exercise may cause temporary worsening of pre-existing symptoms, which could

be explained in part by an increase in body temperature (Cleveland Clinic: The role

of physical exercise in managing Multiple Sclerosis symptoms, 2024). This can be

easily managed in cooler environments such as using fans, air conditioners, loose-

fitting clothing and cold drinks.

Remember: Doing something is always better than doing nothing! Starting slowly and

gradually increasing levels of activity is a great way to begin.


How can an Exercise Physiologist help?

As previously stated, signs and symptoms of MS vary between individuals. It is important

that people with MS feel supported to overcome barriers to exercise and feel safe when

completing exercise. Therefore, it is important that exercises, particularly balance-focused

exercises are completed in a safe environment to reduce the risk of falls or injury.

Accredited Exercise Physiologists have the knowledge and expertise to tailor exercise

sessions and programs to suit the specific needs and goals of their clients. Providing high-

quality prescription, education and support every time.

On World MS Day (and every day) we all play a role in helping those who are affected by MS

feel included and supported. If you or anyone you know want more information about the

diagnosis progress, please speak with your trusted General Practitioner. If you or anyone

you know are struggling to manage their MS symptoms or want additional support/guidance, consider booking in with an Exercise Physiologist at Geelong Rehabilitation Centre.



References:

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