When it comes to workouts, fighting through the exhaustion of MS fatigue is no easy task. I am often asked how fatigue affects my training and how others with multiple sclerosis (MS) can get great workouts despite this common problem.
I wish there were a one-size-fits-all answer to this question, but since we all have different MS symptoms and limitations related to our MS, and we’re all in different places in life’s journey, I will do my best to give you some general guidelines and suggestions to help you maintain a regular exercise program.
The information I am providing is the same advice I give to all my personal training clients — and anyone with MS wanting to get the most out of their exercise routine.
1. Limit Your Workout Duration to No More Than 60 Minutes
First let’s look at the duration of a workout and how that affects your fatigue level, assuming we are all starting with some MS fatigue to begin with. Training for longer than 60 minutes with MS can be challenging to the nervous system, leading to a more fatigued state. I never go beyond this time frame in one workout, and I advise against it for anyone with MS.
Keeping your workouts shorter, more focused, and concentrated on specific body parts instead of the full body will leave you less exhausted after the workout and will preserve your energy throughout. If you are training properly and using the correct methods to stimulate your muscles and brain-to-muscle connection, then 60 minutes is more than adequate for completing your workout. And depending on what body parts are being worked, you can get through a great training session in even less than 60 minutes.
Let’s remember that preserving our energy and keeping our fatigue level under control is an important aspect of getting results from our workouts. We have to recover from every training session, and being overly fatigued will hurt that recovery.
2. During Exercise, Focus on Your Workout
Focusing during a workout is key to getting results, and it’s also a factor in keeping fatigue at bay. By concentrating on each rep and each set, we are allowing our energy to be focused on the workout and not wasted on outside thoughts.
Distraction during training actually takes energy. It brings our minds away from what we are trying to accomplish, namely strengthening our muscles and connecting our brain to our muscles.
Anytime our brain is trying to do more than one thing at a time, such as exercising and also thinking about our next meal, we end up expending more energy. By focusing on each movement during our workouts, we are directing our energy to one thing, and thus controlling our fatigue.
3. Nourish Your Body With Healthy Foods
A healthy diet helps control fatigue generally and provides the nutrients you need to work out and build strength. Choose foods that are digested slowly — such as nuts, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, good fats, and lean proteins — and spread your meals and snacks evenly during the day to keep your blood sugar level stable and your energy level more consistent. These types of foods also have anti-inflammatory effects, which may or may not affect MS directly, but are believed to be protective against heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and some forms of cancer.
4. Set a Consistent Workout Schedule
MS fatigue can rear its ugly head at different times and in different ways for all of us. To combat this fatigue so you still have the energy to work out, it’s best to set a consistent workout schedule for your body to adjust to. The key is not to pick a time of day when you are usually tired.
For instance, if working out after a day’s work is just too overwhelming, don’t pick that as your time to exercise! Set your wakeup alarm a little earlier, and get your workout done before the chaos of your day begins.
It may seem hard to start your day earlier to get your workout in, but getting those endorphins flowing first thing may be just what you need to get your day off to a positive start.
If the thought of getting out of bed earlier than normal is just too stressful, there is still a way to get your body moving later in the day, and that’s to take a short nap. When you’re done with work, house chores, or whatever drains your daily energy, stop for 30 minutes or so and grab that power nap to reinvigorate your body. Just don’t do it too close to your normal bedtime, or you may disrupt your sleep for the night. Napping is a great way to sneak in the rest you need to get you through a good workout.
5. Join a Support Group That Encourages Your Fitness Goals
Getting into a workout mindset is not as hard as it may seem. I have found one of the best “mental fitness” practices is to join a support group of like-minded people. Surrounding yourself with other “MSers” who exercise will help add fuel to your workout fire.
My MS Fitness Challenge GYM group is one of several positive, fitness-focused Facebook groups on social media. And if you are not sure where to begin with an exercise program, my OptimalBody Training program for MS may just be the perfect place to start. It is not only a website full of exercise methods for MS, but it’s a platform to meet others who are facing the same challenges. It’s much easier to get into the right mindset if you’re in the right place.
COVID-19 has made going to the gym a bit more difficult — and in some cases impossible. But we don’t have to lose our fitness motivation and our workout mindset because we are at home. You can still get pumped for exercise in the safety and comfort of your living room through the power of an online community.