The day I met Jennifer I was so taken with her that I knew there was one thing I HAD to do when I got home: Go for a walk. There was a girl I needed to stay healthy for.
I knew that I had to do all that I could to stay active — not only for this woman, who was also living with MS and whom I was hoping to one day marry and have a future with, but also for me as a person trying to stay one step ahead of MS.
Walking eventually led to jogging, and within a few years I was running 5K races. Jennifer, now my wife, was at every event, cheering for me along the race route.
I enjoyed running as a way to stay fit, relieve stress, and push myself despite this disease. I never had to work up the courage to go out for a run.
My biggest challenge with running came when I had to be courageous and tell myself it was OK to stop. It was as though the disease had started to get one step ahead of me, instead of the other way around. My left leg became progressively weakened by MS, which lead to a few too many falls on my evening runs. I always wanted to push myself to the limit, but coming home with bloodied knees and knuckles and risking even more serious injuries was pushing it too far.
There was a girl I needed to stay healthy for, after all.
I didn’t stop running because MS got the best of me. I stopped to make sure I could give my best to Jennifer… and to me.
The reality is that I no longer run, but that didn’t mean I stopped moving. This is key for all of us with MS: Keep moving, whatever that looks like for you and your abilities.
Take an honest look at your ability
See where you are and what’s possible for you. Start by talking with your doctor, and perhaps a physical therapist or trainer that understands MS. It may take some trial-and-error to determine what will and won’t work for you, but your healthcare team can help you explore different options. I obviously am no longer able to run, but I can walk, lift weights, and even do lunges and pushups.
I often take inspiration from Jennifer, who uses a wheelchair and no longer can stand on her own. I dare say she is more active than I am. She does what she can and stretches, works out on her arm bike and passive pedal exerciser, stands in her standing frame, and attends a weekly exercise class specially designed for people with MS and Parkinson’s disease.
Set realistic expectations
Think about what it is you’re trying to accomplish in staying active. Are you looking to get stronger? Increase endurance? Maintain your current level of fitness? Evaluate your goals and write down what you’re trying to accomplish. We’ve found that this helps to keep us on track and prevents us from overdoing it. As the saying goes, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
Be your biggest fan
Treat yourself kindly and have patience with yourself. You’re in this for the long haul. If you try to do too much in the beginning, you could potentially burn yourself out or cause an injury. Start slowly and stay consistent in your efforts. Also be flexible and willing to adjust and adapt your exercise routine. For example, when Jennifer no longer could safely lift a one-pound weight over her head, she realized she got as much benefit using a resistance band.
Build a support system to keep you motivated
For as much as you need people by your side in your battles with MS itself, the same can be said about your quest to stay active. It’s going to be tough at times to stay motivated and keep moving. Whether they’re members of your family or a workout buddy, that support system will help to hold you accountable and encourage you. When I used to run 5k races, just seeing Jennifer on the route helped to push me forward to the finish line.
It also helps to find motivation through inspiring people within the MS community. Several people who inspire our MS activity are Dave Bexfield of ActiveMSers.com, Lisa Emrich of BrassAndIvory.org, and Emily Reilly of Keep Moving with Emily.
Celebrate all of your successes
It’s easy to give up when something — no matter how small — goes wrong. So why is it so difficult to celebrate when something goes right? No matter how small the accomplishment may seem, anything you do to stay active is huge and worthy of celebration. And each celebration can inspire you to do more to keep MS from slowing you down.
UK/MED/18/0320 November 2018