Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Let's get physical

Love it or loathe it, exercise is something that we should all do more of and people with MS are no exception. According to the MS Society exercise can improve the overall health of people with milder MS. It can help people with more severe MS to stay as mobile and active as possible and improve muscle strength and fitness, helping with mobility or weakness problems.

For illustration purposes only.
Obviously if I looked like this then the
gym mirror would be my favourite
 place on Earth
It has been a long and arduous journey to find a form of exercise that suits me.  If only reaching for the remote control whilst simultaneously opening the wrapper of a Double Decker could be categorised as “strenuous activity”. Despite being quite sporty at school, I never really “got” the concept of exercise as an adult.  Over the years I have dabbled with aerobics classes, STEP, yoga, and Body Balance. I even bought an ill-advised “Callanetics” video.  The drawbacks of exercising in a gym in front of other people are both numerous and obvious. I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say that an aerobics class is, for me, abject physical and mental torture.  The horror of watching my wobbly bits bounce up and down is only surpassed by the despondency caused by looking at my puce, sweaty head.  Is there anywhere more depressing on earth than the Gym mirror?  The home fitness video option is also not for me as I don’t have the requisite motivation or tenacity.  The mere sight of a shiny haired, taut-bodied Davina McCall is enough to induce bouts of aggressive swearing at the TV – not a good example to set my three children, “Why are you shouting at the pretty lady Mummy?”

Just about to cycle down Glencoe
wearing a very flattering hi-viz jacket.
Eight years ago I was desperately looking for a way to exercise off some of the jelly belly that was an inevitable consequence of two pregnancies and a pre-natal penchant for Star Bars.   I decided to buy a bike and for the first time since school, I started to enjoy exercise again.  Cycling appeals to me on many different levels.  I love being out in the fresh air with the sun (or even rain) on my face. The bike gets me into the glorious Lake District countryside far more quickly than walking. But most importantly, cycling provides me with a valid excuse to escape the noise and chaos of family life and find some much needed headspace.  I put the world to rights on these bike rides – I have time to mentally process anything that might be worrying me and that can only be a good thing when it comes to managing any stress in my life.

My first MS relapse resulted in paralysis from the waist down for three weeks.  When I started to recover I instinctively turned to cycling (albeit on an exercise bike) to help improve the strength in my legs.  It was difficult to know whether my legs were weak because of the MS, or whether the weakness was due to the long period of immobility the MS relapse had caused.  It was probably a bit of both.  After that first attack I thought, perhaps naively, that being fit and strong would mean that future relapses would not affect me so badly.  I quickly learned that this is not the case; when a relapse hits there is little you can do in terms of exercise to help.  In fact in my experience, exercise is the very last thing I want or should be doing in the midst of an attack.  Rest and recuperation is the key here.  But as soon as I start to feel better I go outside in the fresh air and try and get moving again – stretching, flexing, walking and when eventually I am strong enough, cycling.

The arrival of Harry the dog has meant that I don’t get out on my bike as much as I used to.  Dog walks are now the order of the day but I still love that feeling of getting on bike and heading for the hills. Cycling is good for the soul.

I have to come to realise that exercise is essential if I want to confront this disease head-on, both physically and mentally. Exercise is not a magic bullet for my MS but it will provide me with the best possible foundation to my future recovery - just as long as there are no mirrors…


  1. No matter what the problem, a fit person, physically and mentally, has a better chance of dealing with it.
    Life is playing the odds, even, sometimes, when they are stacked against you and if you can improve the odds . . . .
    Now must go on a diet and lose weight!

  2. Cycling is good for the soul. I couldn't agree more. Cycling is my main source of exercise as well. Everything you said about riding a bike, I feel the same way. I live in the United States, Utah, and in about a week, I'll ride in our State's Bike MS. We only just met, but I'll be thinking about you.


  3. I run. I'm not a particularly good runner, and I wouldn't say I enjoy it as much as I enjoy having done it... but I'd be devastated if I had to stop. Even when I feel at my most fatigued - and I know this doesn't make any sense - going for a run makes me feel better. A lot of it is mental, I think: I'm not going to let myself be beaten and being able to go out and take exercise is points for me and none for MS. I may have to adjust with time, and I drag my left leg when I get tired and the scuffing is starting to affect the cartilage in my knee.... but I'm not dead yet. 6 miles tonight and the half marathon in September.