Four words sum up the key to staying active: start low, go slow. Physical fitness is a lifelong goal, so don't expect too much too soon. Begin with a shorter session, and then exercise a little longer each time. Moderate exercise for 20 minutes everyday provides the same health benefits as vigorous workouts. Learn to tell the difference between the feeling of a stretch and pain. Stretch is acceptable, but pain is not.
All people with MS should consult their doctor or healthcare professional before starting any exercise program. People at all levels of disability can benefit from exercise programs that are tailored to meet their individual needs. Your doctor or healthcare professional will be able to assess your current fitness level, and recommend the best activities for you.
A proper warm-up will help you get the most out of exercise and prevent muscle spasms. Take 5 to 8 minutes to warm up, by moving your head, shoulders, arms, wrists, hips, legs, ankles, and feet in a circular motion. Gently stretch the muscles that you will be using during your workout, and take 5 to 6 deep breaths while holding each position. All movements should be done slowly and evenly, since moving quickly can increase muscle spasms or stiffness. Consult your pharmacist or healthcare professional to ensure that you take your MS medications (especially medications for muscle spasms) at the best time in relation to exercise.
Exercise should be planned for a time when you have the most energy. Some people find early morning best; others prefer to exercise once in the morning and once in the afternoon or evening. Get enough sleep the night before your workout, and take a 15-minute nap if necessary a few hours before exercising. Keep in mind the following helpful hints:
- Use the "2-minute" rule. Exercise for 2 minutes if you are feeling tired. After 2 minutes, you might have enough energy to continue. If you are still feeling tired after 2 minutes, stop and rest.
- Avoid overdoing it. A 15-minute quiet time-out (lying or sitting still with your eyes closed) may be a simple solution to recharge your batteries.
- Always talk to your exercise instructor or partner/team about MS so they will understand if you need to take a break.
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