Life with MS — Exercise is key to improving balance, cognition

Your body was made to move. Proper exercise keeps the brain, nervous system, organs, muscles, bones and joints stronger. Exercise also plays a huge roll against the degeneration and slow down with all the cells in your body.

Unfortunately, some people experience physical challenges that came unexpected and unplanned into their lives.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is one of them. The word sclerosis comes from the Greek word “skleros” which means “hard.” MS is many hard-small scars on the nerve cell axon sheaths. Scars and plaque form and interfere with the nerve conduction.

During a lecture I once listened to by a neuroscientist on MS, he compared it to having tiny mice nibling on electrical wires in your house. This happens to the nerve cells in a central nervous system with MS. The nerve cells, also known as neurons, are part of the central nervous system, along with the brain and spinal cord. MS attacks the myelin sheaths of these nerve cells; Myelin sheaths protect the Axons, which extend to communicate with Axons.

With MS, the system goes after itself by going after special cells called oligodendrocytes, which maintain the myelin sheath. Scars and plaque then form, causing damaged areas. Eventually, this also affects cognitive function and balance.

Exercise stimulates the central nervous system for everyone. If one’s body is trying to break down its nervous system, exercise works against that and, in most cases, can help slow down the deterioration of the body. There are specific exercises that create more stimulation as well as strengthening the “balancing system.”

Studies of aerobic exercise for people living with MS can show improvement with many of the disease’s symptoms. There are different ways to approach achieving aerobic/cardiovascular exercise and doesn’t have to be a rigorous workout to provide benefits.

Since many with MS have balance, stabilization and walking challenges, one must choose exercises that are safe, bring positive benefits and work with their energy level. One of my clients who has MS uses different pieces of equipment while training, such as battle ropes, balance discs and pads, BOSU® balls, Swiss balls, Anchor Point Training,® Pilates reformer and mat Pilates.

His favorite is using my Pilates reformer and exercising with the battle ropes when training with me.

Having knowledge and understanding of why you are performing a specific exercise or using a specific piece of equipment is very important. When time, energy and strength is limited, as with many with MS, don’t waste time doing just any exercises someone recommended — it may actually limit the full body strengthening you need.

For example: Battle ropes, if done properly, have a low risk of injury and are non-impact weight resistance while providing short durations of cardio.

When using them, there is a two-vector force direction created. This means one direction of force is pulling away from the client while also having a downward force from the pull of gravity from the weight of the ropes. This causes multiple contractions of different muscles and muscle groups throughout the body simultaneously.

It also challenges dynamic balance and stabilization while using them, stimulating both the brain and nervous system to send multiple messages throughout the body while strengthening the core, coordination and cognitive skills.

Again, this exercise may not be for everyone with MS. The important thing is to find which exercises can work with you and your level while bringing the most benefits in a shorter duration.

With the proper exercises, an individual with MS can improve the cognitive skills needed for spatial awareness and balance.

No matter which exercise or modality one is doing, staying focused to and aware of the whole body while exercising is essential.

Tracy L. Markley is a Florence author and fitness Instructor


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