Thursday, January 3, 2008

Physical Exercise and MS

A few years ago my wife decided that she wanted to run a marathon. Her health was pretty good and she was having minimal MS issues, so we decided to try some light exercise. We met with a certified personal trainer and setup an exercise regimen that would supposedly work for her physical needs. We started with the basics including weight training and cardio on a bike and treadmill. At first, she was doing great! She was handling the weights and was even able to walk a fair distance on the treadmill.

We would leave the house in the morning and workout together for about an hour. It was interesting to watch the other people in the gym since we were the only couple working out. This went on for about 2 months and still no problems. We knew that she could only push her body so far, but it seemed she was staying within those limits because we weren't seeing any adverse effects from it. When we first started she could only walk on the treadmill. By the second month she was running for short distances and starting to see a pretty major difference in her body.

Since we worked out together, I could see that she was lifting more weight and getting stronger. What was really funny is we started seeing other couples working out at the gym, and we later found out that we had influenced a whole new group of people that were working out with their spouses. We really enjoyed it, and she kept pushing herself further and further until she was running at full speed on the treadmill and was still feeling great. It was one of those moments when life was kinda normal and her Multiple Sclerosis wasn't rearing it's ugly head. We even started looking at short races that she might be able to enter and run in.

Then it all started. One day she woke up with a tight spot on her side. It wasn't very big and it was more of an annoiance than anything else. We were a little worried about it, but we had been through the numbness and tingling with her MS before. Then it started spreading until it wrapped all around her abdomen. I have heard this described as the MS hug. The tightness incread around her abdomen until it started to hurt and become really uncomfortable. She was having problems wearing anything that put pressure on her waist and then it started to spread. Within a very short amount of time she was completely numb from her chest down and couldn't walk without help.

I tried all sorts of things to make her more comfortable, from buying high end sheets to trying to find clothes that wouldn't cause issues. At first, we thought it would pass quickly. She had only been working out for about three months and her MS seemed in remission. Her complete numbness went on for about a month before we found something that we thought would work and help. To be honest, I was worried and we even began to think through the possibility of her being in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. I came across an ND that I thought could help and little did I know that this new doctor would change the way we thought about Multiple Sclerosis.

Once we started his treatment she became better, but we learned a lot about exercising and Multiple Sclerosis through this whole process. One thing we learned is that taking care of diet is extremely important whether you are exercising or not. You can't push your body when your gut is not working properly and your body is not absorbing nutrients. We found out that my wife had a leaky gut and her body was not expelling waste properly or absorbing nutrients properly. So, she was pushing her body and it wasn't cooperating to stay up with the exercising. You can't exercise and ignore what you eat and how well you're taking care of your digestion.

Another thing we have learned is you have to hydrate and make sure your hormones are balanced. Hormone imbalance has a lot to do with how your body uses the water you take in, and my wife was very dehydrated even though she was drinking a lot of water. Even now, we can both tell when she is not drinking enough water because of certain symptoms that start to pop up. We have also tried other exercises like yoga and tai chi. She loves yoga, and her MS seems to do better when she is stretching and moving her body through the movements.

We are continuing to learn how much and to what extent she can exercise, but we would both caution anyone with MS when it comes to physical exertion. Some MS patients seem to do OK with exercise but the majority we have met can't exercise much because of fatigue and how it affects them. I guess our advice would be to take it slow, rest a lot, eat great and drink plenty of water. I know that it frustrates my wife that she can't run like she did as a teenager, but I also know that she is thankful that she can still walk, hug our daughter and participate in other activities. I know my wife, and she will continue to exercise but she will take the time to listen to her body and continue to learn as she goes. She still wants to run that marathon, and maybe one day we will do it together.


Flo said...

I have found a lot of encouragement out there for people with MS to exercise.Although, this is the first time I have come across this warning.
So I guess only moderate exercise, or start out and pace yourself very slowly when it comes to cardio or weight training?

Cory said...

Hi Flo, I know that exercise has been great for my wife's MS. I think the danger for her is when she tries to push through and do too much. She really wants to be able to do everything like she did before the MS hit, so she find herself pushing too hard and her body gives out at some point. The problem is that it doesn't recover like it did before MS, so she struggles to find a healthy balance. I think pacing yourself is very important, and she still exercises but tries to listen really well to what her body is telling her. Thanks for the comment and let me know if you have specific questions.