Staying active can be challenging for some people living with multiple sclerosis (MS) due to the unpredictable nature of the disease. However, regular exercise can improve overall health and may help with MS symptoms such as fatigue and balance problems.
In today’s article, Trishna Bharadia shares her methods for keeping active:
1. I make adjustments to suit my body’s capabilities, 2. I find alternative ways to exercise (such as activities that would work with a wheelchair), 3. I push myself but keep my goals realistic, 4. I remember staying active is good for mental health, 5. I make friends in my exercise classes.
It was May 2008. I was 28 years old.
I remember sitting inside the neurologist’s office with my parents. The conversation went like this:
Neurologist: “Your results confirm you have multiple sclerosis [MS]. It means the nerves in your brain and spinal cord are damaged. That’s why you’re experiencing these symptoms.”
Me: “Oh. Does that mean I have to stop playing hockey?”
When I received an MS diagnosis, my first reaction wasn't to ask about care plans. I didn't ask how long my symptoms would last or what to do next. All I wanted to know was whether I could stay active.
Exercise has always been a big part of my life. I’ve always been on the go, even from a very young age, trying my hand at every sport possible. My family are all active too. My dad is still playing international field hockey in his 70s!
Thankfully, my neurologist told me an MS diagnosis didn’t mean I had to give up playing hockey.
“In fact,” he said, “I’d recommend you continue playing for as long as you possibly can.”
Hockey is a demanding sport. You must be physically strong, quick on your feet, and agile enough to dodge flying balls. It's been a part of my life since I was old enough to hold the miniature hockey stick my dad made for me.
Although I played many other sports at the time, hockey was my true passion. It was my life. Over the years, I'd played to a high level, from school to university. I'd been both the Vice-Captain and Captain of my hockey teams, and I'd won many trophies and medals.
As well as my dad, my sisters and many other members of my extended family also played. Hockey is in our blood.
Yet, in the years since I received an MS diagnosis, I’ve had to adapt, adjust and change my ways of staying active.
How I continue to be active with MS
1. I make adjustments to suit my body’s capabilities
I continued to play hockey until five years after receiving an MS diagnosis.
I’d always been an attacker, but MS fatigue began to affect how much sprinting I could manage. I gradually moved into a defensive position, which I enjoyed more than expected!
I also adjusted my training schedule, playing in just one match at the weekend instead of two. During the week, I found other, less intensive ways of keeping up my skills and fitness.
2. I find alternative ways to exercise (such as activities that would work with a wheelchair)
With how my MS was progressing, particularly my fatigue, I knew I would have to find an alternative to playing hockey.
I needed something that didn't rely on me running around, especially if I needed to use walking aids or a wheelchair.
I took up dance and continue to dance today. Dance has allowed me to stay active after having to give up hockey. Dance allows me to go at my own pace. Even when I have bad days of fatigue, I do what I can.
I can also take toilet breaks halfway through a class if my bladder is playing up. That’s hard to do in the middle of a hockey match!
I can also dance if I need to use a wheelchair, so I don’t have to give up something I enjoy if MS one day affects my mobility. Knowing this has made me feel much better about the future.
3. I push myself but keep my goals realistic
Setting goals for myself is essential, but I keep them realistic. Otherwise, I’d feel like I’m constantly failing.
When I still played hockey, I accepted it was okay not to manage an entire match. I always put in 100 per cent on the pitch, so I didn't feel bad for asking to be substituted when I had reached my limit.
I have also wanted to do a London Marathon, but that's now an unrealistic goal for my capabilities. Instead, I trained for and completed a 20-kilometre walk for an MS charity. Having targets like these keep me motivated and inspired. If I set goals too high, it can result in disappointment and frustration.
I know how I feel more than anyone, and I’m very happy to keep setting these goals for myself.
4. I remember staying active is good for mental health
When I'm exercising, I'm in my "happy place." The adrenaline and endorphins are great for my mental health.
That's why it is also essential to set goals that don't feel like chores. Before I stopped playing hockey, I became increasingly frustrated with my body's limits. I wanted to continue playing at the standard I'd always played. I also felt guilty about letting my teammates down. As my reactions became slower, I was more likely to get injured.
As hard as it was, I questioned whether this would ever improve. The answer was "no", so I decided to stop playing before I came to hate the thing I loved doing most.
I'm glad I continue to be active through walking and dancing. Exercise is excellent for the mind, brain, and body. The boost you get can last for several days afterwards.
5. I make friends in my exercise classes
The social contact you can have through being active is fantastic. MS Society research suggests loneliness may affect three in five people with MS. As a result, taking measures to prevent isolation is vital.
Team sports are an easy and fun way to make friends. My hockey team were incredibly supportive following my diagnosis.
Despite being a more solo activity, I also made friends when I started my dance classes. Staying active can mean a refreshing change of scenery and lead to developing helpful support networks.
There's much more to staying active than just maintaining good physical health when you're a person with MS. It's crucial to find many different ways to keep moving whenever you can.
There are so many options for activities and sports these days. You can choose from the following:
- group classes
- team sports
- online or cyber classes
I don’t believe it when people say they don’t like exercise. I think they haven't found an activity right for them yet. There are infinite possibilities, and it's possible to exercise regardless of age, physical ability, or fitness level.
NPS-IE-NP-00733 May 2023