The health risks associated with physical inactivity are well known in the general population. Along with the risk of chronic conditions (such as osteoporosis, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer), the lack of exercise can also result in muscle weakness, fatigue, depression, and sleep disturbances. The symptoms of MS are similar to the consequences of physical inactivity, so people with MS may have even more problems with tiredness, mood disorders, and sleep disturbances.
MS symptoms are unpredictable and can vary greatly from person to person. Symptoms that affect exercise ability include:
- extreme tiredness
- shaking and loss of coordination
- muscle stiffness or spasms
- poor balance and unsteadiness
Not all people with MS will experience all symptoms, and often the symptoms will improve during periods of remission. This means that different people will have varying exercise ability at different times.
It may seem surprising that physical activity benefits people with MS. However, research studies show that regular activity results in better physical functioning and general health. In particular, aerobic exercise increases cardiovascular fitness, and arm and leg strength; at the same time, aerobic exercise also reduces depression and fatigue, and promotes a more positive attitude. When an MS attack or exacerbation occurs, the increase in muscle strength acquired through exercise can help provide a stronger foundation for recovery.
The key to any exercise program is moderation. Either too much or too little physical activity can be harmful. All people with MS should consult their doctor or healthcare professional before starting any exercise program.
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