Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Exercise: Good for the heart, good for the body and good for MS

I started exercising routinely 8 years ago after my mother died at age 55 from heart disease/obesity. She left me a little money and I used it to buy bikes for my husband and me. Her death was a turning point for me. Either eat right and exercise or I would die young. Period. In fact heart disease runs rampant in my family. My brother was 37 when he had his first heart attack. He’s now 46, has a defribrillator/pacemaker and an ejection fraction of 30% (heart failure). My dad died of heart failure and I have a cousin that died at 45 of cardiomyopathy.

The heart disease factor was one reason I became a heart nurse. I’m definitely the type of person to take the bull by the horns, so to speak. Now eight years later, I still run or do some other kind of aerobic training 4 days a week and do at least 50 push-ups 3 days a week. After recovering from my first (and only) MS exacerbation I continued to exercise and didn’t change the intensity or type of working out I did. As a nurse I knew that any activity that was good for the body would be good for my MS. I used how I was feeling as judge as to how hard I could go. If I started to feel bad, I stopped.

I read some old articles that advised against exercise for MS patients, especially intense exercise, because it could stress the body, raise body temperature and increase MS symptoms. But luckily there has been some research that demonstrates that exercise is beneficial. According to Lesley White, a professor in UF’s department of applied physiology and kinesiology, “after eight weeks of supervised resistance training on conventional gym equipment, eight MS patients had stronger muscles, could walk better, and reported less overall fatigue and disability.” (

Many MS survivors have increased symptoms when they become over heated. Heat does not bother me. I think this may be because my body is conditioned to handle fluctuations of body temperature from excercising consistently for more than 8 years, in all kinds of conditions. I don't have problems running on hot days, although I try not to run if the temperature is over 80 degrees. On those days I run later in the day when it’s cooler or I run indoors at the gym. I would be interested to see a study on this, if it is possible to increase an MS patient’s tolerance to heat by slowly increasing exercise known to raise body temperature. I’ve even found that I can sit in a hot tub and not feel any symptoms.

According the National MS society website, “ 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 clearly the benefits of exercise for people with MS. Those patients who participated in an aerobic exercise program had better cardiovascular fitness, improved strength, better bladder and bowel function, less fatigue and depression, a more positive attitude, and increased participation in social activities.” (

I have found that if I exercise when I’m feeling tired or sluggish or even depressed, those symptoms disappear after working out. Seriously. So, like I tell my heart patients, go for a walk, or find some exercise that you can do and do it. No excuses. If you are unsure of where to start, talk to your doctor or go to the National MS society webpage, type in “exercise” in the search box at the top of the page.

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