Do you have multiple sclerosis (MS)? Well, the next time someone tells you to go jump in a lake, say that you'd love to!
You see, exercises that are done in water, such as aquatic exercise classes, can be particularly helpful for people with MS. Overheating can make MS symptoms worse, but exercising in the water can keep the body cool. Plus, the buoyancy of the water can support movement, making it easier to balance while putting less stress on your joints.
Local gyms and YMCAs may offer aquatic exercise classes. You can also find gyms with pools by doing a simple online search. Being able to swim is often not required. It’s important to follow the water safety rules provided by the pool or facility. And make sure there is a lifeguard on duty to assist you in case of emergency.
Based on the ones I’ve taken, aquatic exercise classes usually start with some gentle stretches, then a slow jog, followed by a faster jog for a few minutes, building up the heart rate. Talk to your healthcare provider or physical therapist about how much activity is right for you. There are a variety of exercises that a trained instructor can show you how to do in the water. Some are easy and relaxing, and some are quite hard, but because the water supports you all the time, much less stress is put on your joints.
Everyone is different, so everyone will see different results. Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before beginning an exercise routine so he or she can help you find one that’s right for you.
Endurance exercises, such as walking and running in the water, may give you more energy and increase your ability to exert yourself. I’ve been able to extend my exercise time to include swimming laps after class.
Flexibility exercises, such as stretching and yoga, may help you maintain your range of motion. For people with MS, this may help prevent muscle spasticity. My range of motion has increased in both my upper and lower body.
Strength exercises, such as weight training and abdominal curls may help increase the strength of your muscles and bones. There are a variety of weights made specifically for use in the water. My walking strength has improved, and I find it easier to get out of a chair or a car.
Special water weights can be used to do jumps, hopping, and a lot of upper-body work. You are working against the resistance of the water all the time, but you will most likely feel it less than you would on dry land.
The slower movements of water exercises are aimed at coordination. Typically, there is no need to know how to swim. For safety and simplicity, these exercises can be done in armpit-high water. In my experience, most classes last for 50-60 minutes and end with more stretches to cool down.
Always remember to talk to your healthcare provider before doing aquatic exercises so he or she can help you find the right classes based on your fitness level and the progression of your MS.
I hope that those of you who have not considered aquatic classes will consider giving them a try if they are available in your area. There may be many benefits to exercising in the water. Besides being a lot of fun, you get a workout that many people with MS just cannot do on dry land. Plus, by taking a class, you actually get to go out and meet new people.