MS typically affects men and women between the ages of 20 and 40. There are two types of MS. The relapsing and remitting form consists of episodes of visual loss, numbness or weakness that improve. A more serious, chronic, progressive form follows a slowly deteriorating pattern.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans are particularly sensitive to changes in nerve cells resulting in the formation of MS plaques. This has permitted earlier diagnosis and initiation of treatment.
Immunosuppressive medications have successfully reduced the number of MS relapses and slowed progression. Recent studies have shown that patients who suffer from MS and exercise regularly perform better on objective tests.
Any exercise regimen should only be performed after physician approval. The goals should be as follows:
• An adequate period of warm-up and stretching
• A minimum of 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three days per week
• Resistance exercise on alternating days
• Activities that improve balance
One area of concern for patients is the potential for making symptoms worse when exposed to extreme heat. MS patients must be especially careful not to exercise on hot days and to remain hydrated. Cooling vests are sometimes recommended to provide a more tolerable environment.
Among the best fitness activities for patients with MS are swimming, cycling, running and martial arts. Participation in group activities also provides a social outlet.
Inactivity can lead to joint spasticity and muscle atrophy. It can also lead to diminished coordination and potentially deadly falls.
Any treatment plan for MS should include a combination of medication and an appropriate fitness regimen.