If you have multiple sclerosis, you may not feel like exercising. You may feel tired, weak and clumsy, and wonder what good being active will do. The good news is that the recommended approach for exercising when you have MS is to take it slow and easy rather than over extending yourself. The even better news is that when you do, exercise can improve your strength, balance, muscle stiffness, bowel and bladder control, as well as reduce MS spasticity. Check with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine. This is good advice for anyone but is particularly true if you have MS. Start slowly and build your fitness gradually. Stretch daily, and ensure that you stay properly hydrated and don’t overheat. See a physiotherapist if you want assistance in choosing the right activities for your particular condition status. Remember that exercise doesn’t have to take place in a gym. Activities such as gardening and household chores all add up to the increased activity level that will help you combat MS. Choose your activities wisely and enjoy the progress you make as you put your health and well-being at the top of your priority list. Walking Walk regularly if you can. Almost half of people with MS have gait disorders, or difficulty walking. These challenges are caused by muscle weakness, balance issues, muscle stiffness and spasticity, overall fatigue and loss of sensation in the legs and feet. Walking gives you a light cardio workout, as well as testing and maintaining your balance. Keep up regular walking as long as you can, even if it’s just for a short distance each time. Bring a friend or family member for security if you have a fear of falling. Water based exercise Whether it’s swimming or water aerobics, exercising in the water eliminates the risk of falling that can accompany MS. In addition to preventing falls and providing support, water also reduces the stress on your muscles and joints that other dryland activities can cause. Start with a low intensity, beginner level class and progress at your own pace. Strength training Muscle weakness and fatigue are a part of MS that you can prevent with strength training. Try activities such as step ups or squats, using a chair or railing for balance. Use light weights for arm exercises such as bicep curls and shoulder presses. If you don’t have hand weights, try body weight strength exercises such as wall pushups or tricep dips using a chair or counter. Stretching Stretching is good for everyone. Not only does it help you prepare for and recover from exercise, it also helps to maintain the flexibility that makes movement easier and reduces your chance of injury. If you have MS, stretching also helps to combat the muscle stiffness that accompanies this condition. Try stretching areas such as your calves, hip flexors and hamstrings. Some forms of exercise have an element of stretching built-in, such as wall pushups done with heels to the ground to stretch out both the calves and hamstrings. Balance exercise Your balance is affected when you have MS, so dedicate some of your exercise time to work on this area. Try activities such as standing on one leg to practice your balance. Make sure you have a wall or chair to hold if you need support, and try closing your eyes to increase the level of challenge. Even two legged exercises like plie squats are more difficult when your eyes are closed, making them a worthwhile task to master in your quest to remain steady on your feet. Core training Your core is your abdominal, back and pelvis muscles, and is the foundation of your balance and stability. Good exercise regimens include a core component as a way to increase performance as well as prevent injury in areas like the spine. Try exercises such as pelvis raises while lying on your back with your knees bent, and planks or push-ups. If the latter are too difficult, try a modified version from your knees rather than your feet. The takeaway Exercise can seem too challenging when you’re faced with the physical changes brought on by MS, but building your fitness level can stave off the progression of the disease and help you manage your symptoms. Get clearance from your doctor before starting a new exercise program and enlist the aid of a physiotherapist for guidance in choosing the best exercises for you.