Tips From a Doctor: Multiple Sclerosis and Exercise

  • by Dr. Allen C. Bowling
  •   September 04, 2017

Dr. Bowling is a paid spokesperson for Teva Neuroscience, Inc.

It is known that exercise has many benefits for most people living with MS. Exercise may improve many different MS symptoms and common RMS symptoms, including weakness, fatigue, anxiety, depression, pain, and bowel and bladder difficulties. Exercise may also have general health benefits, such as reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer, lowering of blood pressure, weight reduction, and prevention and treatment of diabetes and osteoporosis.

Despite all of these known benefits of exercise, it is difficult for many to exercise regularly or even to start an exercise program. Some people just don’t enjoy exercise—gyms may be unappealing, and exercising itself may seem laborious and unpleasant. In that case, unconventional exercise programs may play a valuable role. These programs may not feel as burdensome as conventional exercise—they may actually be viewed as fun and can be a part of your new “normal.” They do not require gym equipment and may be done in group settings, which can be appealing for many.

Here are some unconventional programs that may be considered by those living with MS; however, it is important to consult with your health care provider before beginning any exercise program.

  • Yoga: Yoga is now widely available and may be modified for those with disabilities. One rigorous MS clinical trial found that yoga may improve fatigue. Other studies that looked at the impact exercise had in MS patients found some improvement in several common MS symptoms, including anxiety, depression, pain, weakness, and walking.
  • Tai Chi: Tai Chi, which is similar to yoga, may be modified for those with disabilities. Studies in MS indicate that tai chi may improve walking, decrease muscle stiffness, and improve social and emotional functioning. Studies in other conditions have shown improvement in many symptoms, including mood, fatigue, and pain. Try this video if you’d like to practice mindful movement.
  • Pilates: Pilates was originally developed to increase flexibility and strength in soldiers who were recovering from injuries during World War I. Pilates is now widely practiced and used for its potential benefits for general health and for specific medical conditions. Pilates focuses on muscles of the abdomen, upper legs, back, and buttocks. As a result, it may be especially helpful for those with weakness of the core and upper legs. Limited studies indicate that Pilates may improve low back and neck pain, sleep, walking difficulties, weakness and posture.
  • Pole Walking: Pole walking, also known as Nordic walking, involves walking while using trekking poles, which are like ski poles. The poles provide additional support while walking and thus may protect from falling. Also, relative to conventional walking, the use of poles provides more comprehensive exercise, including increased exercise for the heart and lungs and greater use of the torso and arm muscles.
  • Dancing: Dancing has undergone limited study in MS patients. The musical and rhythmic movements of dancing may provide unique benefits and be more appealing than conventional exercise. Two recent studies of dancing in MS patients found some improvement in walking and balance.

Remember: It is important to consult with your health care provider before beginning any exercise program.

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Dr. Allen C. Bowling, MD, PhD


Dr. Allen C. Bowling, MD, PhD, paid spokesperson for Teva Neuroscience, Inc.

About The Author

Dr. Allen C. Bowling, MD, PhD is an internationally renowned neurologist and multiple sclerosis specialist.

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4 Comment(s)
  • Muriel | September 10, 2017
    Exercise is undoubtedly beneficial to people with MS. What wasn't discussed is the "rebound" effect many ppl with MS feel later that day or the next. Yesterday I went for a swim. Not an intense workout by any means. Today I feel as if I was pummeled. It doesn't matter the type of exercise. Obviously the intensity of the workout will lead to a greater or lesser rebound of muscle pain, fatigue etc..
  • sandra | September 13, 2017
    Thanks I've been looking for exercises for MS! I was diagnosed in 1987, I was runner & I think I had it for about 10 years before that cause when I ran I couldn't go in a straight line. Am now using a walker with wheels.
    • Teva's Lift MS Team | September 13, 2017
      We are always here to listen, sandra. Please reach out whenever you need to.
  • Sandra  | February 14, 2018
    Great article. Thanks for the tips on managing my MS!
    • Teva's Lift MS Team | February 15, 2018
      We’re glad you liked this, Sandra. We hope you’ll check back often for new content!
  • Kim | February 28, 2018
    Thank you for any and all of the help you can provide, Dr. Bowling.
    • Teva's Lift MS Team | March 01, 2018
      We are happy you are finding value in the blog, Kim! Please continue to check back for more info.