Over and over again, I’ve read about how exercise can positively impact the intensity of MS fatigue.
Nearly every disease has information that says that those who exercise fair better physically than those who do not exercise. Something about this feels like a cosmic joke to me. Of course those who exercise fair better physically – THEY CAN ALREADY WORK OUT! So – what about those of us who aren’t already working out? How can we make that leap?
You know that heavy protective lead vest that they put on you when you’re getting x-rays at the dentist’s office? For me, at least, MS fatigue feels like wearing a vest like that all over your body. It makes moving take a ton of willpower and energy.
Telling me that running 20 minutes a day on the elliptical machine will make me feel better when walking to the bathroom is a feat is like telling someone with food poisoning that they’ll feel better after they eat something to settle their stomach. It might make sense and even be EXACTLY right — but on some deeper, human level, it sounds like the most ridiculous, difficult thing you could possibly do to yourself.
So, when I hear learned, highly-respected doctors saying that they don’t understand why so many of us with MS gain weight and decrease exercise, it makes me cock my head and think, “Really?”
I think one of the biggest barriers to happiness and positive increase in health for those of us with chronic illness is constantly being bombarded with thoughts of what we CAN’T or shouldn’t do, and not thoughts of what we CAN do.
Granted, it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease, and our bodies are squeaking loudly, begging for rest that unfortunately never feels restful. It’s hard to think about what you can do when you can’t stop thinking about what you want to do and are unable to do.
So, how do you get around that? It seems like for many of us, we play the “wait to get better” game. We think to ourselves, “Ok, I feel like crap today, but tomorrow, when I wake up and feel better, I’ll definitely go to the gym.” It seems reasonable. Today we’re letting ourselves rest, and tomorrow, we’ll do what we know we need to do to feel better.
Instead, tomorrow comes, and we feel the same or we feel a little better or a little worse — but no matter what, we know that we have to take things moment to moment. So if we feel better, we work out – and then are *done* for the rest of the day. Heck, we’re out of spoons! If we feel worse, we “take off” another day, and if we feel the same, we hem and haw over whether or not to work out because we’re afraid of making ourselves feel worse today or tomorrow by using all our spoons.
We’re so filled with sadness and anxiety over what to do that our fatigue just makes it that much harder to make decisions. We forget that *very* little things matter and can make a *huge* impact.
For me, my dog makes all the difference. Every day, I try to walk past one more house before I come home. Some days, I can only make it 5 or 6 houses. Other days, I can take the whole block. Some days, like today, I can’t take him out at all and have to get Adam to do it.
For those who can’t walk or who are couch or bed-ridden, there are still ways to get exercise. Even better, you can exercise only during the commercials, and still get the benefits of exercise.
The objective of these exercises is to stop muscle atrophy, tone, and strengthen. It is *not* to raise your body temperature (which can be a huge problem for those of us with MS), and it is *not* to get your heart rate up. It’s to remind you what your body can do and make you feel more capable on any given day.
The easiest exercise that I’ve found is to sit on a stability ball
when watching TV or being on the computer. Assuming that you have good posture, this will strengthen your back, abs, and help with stability.
The other day, I was looking at the Listerine website trying to find coupons when I noticed that they had 12 routines by Denise Austin that show you how to work out while watching TV. You may need to register, but it’s free and I’m sure we all have our spam accounts.
I also really like Pilates. There are tons of Pilates exercises that you can do in bed – things as simple as leg lifts.
Other things that you can do:
- Sit ups in bed or on the floor
- Lift 3-5 pound weights
- Put on some 1 or 2 pound leg weights (or not!) and just kick your legs like a kid in a booster seat
- Just stretch! Stretching has its own benefits.
- There are also programs like Sit and Be Fit: Balance and Fall Prevention Workout and Easy Sitting Pilates Non Aerobic Non Impact Strength, Rehab & Physical Therapy Exercises that are less strenuous, very effective and that you can mute and do while playing your favorite music.
Sure, it kind of stinks to have your workout labeled as for “seniors” or “the elderly,” but we take as many pills and get the same looks from people, so why not take advantage of something made for people like us? Who knows – maybe one of these days me and some friends will make a video for people like us – in our mid-20’s and disabled.
Until then, I’m going to take baby steps towards lessening my fatigue and feeling good about myself. I hope you do too. 🙂