Fight Back With Fitness

Facing the challenges of MS often means finding creative ways to maintain physical and mental health, and exercise is becoming a key strategy in this effort.  With its ability to enhance mobility, boost mood, and improve overall quality of life, physical activity is gaining recognition as a cornerstone of effective MS management.  However, finding the best exercise approach for individuals with MS isn’t straightforward as it differs greatly from person to person.  Initiatives like iConquerMS are key in driving forward our understanding of the best practices in exercise for those living with MS.

legs running

There is evidence that exercise can improve MS symptoms. 

  • 2016 review shows that exercise helps reduce relapse rates, shrink lesion sizes, slow disease progression, and improve neurological test outcomes in people with MS.
  • According to a 2019 review, aerobic exercise and physical therapy help improve physical symptoms, mental health, and social life for people with MS.
  • 2020 review found that physical exercise significantly reduces fatigue.

There are many different types of exercise, each of which holds unique benefits.


Aerobic exercises, which elevate the heart rate, are especially good for improving lung capacity, strengthening core muscles, and improving balance and coordination.  A 2017 review suggests that low- to moderate-intensity aerobic exercise can also boost energy levels, mood, heart health, and quality of life in people with MS who have mild to moderate disability.

Progressive strength training involves lifting light weights and doing minimal repetitions at first, and slowly increasing the amount of weight or the number of repetitions over time.  Research shows that this improves strength, balance, and mobility in people with MS.


Flexibility and stretching exercises help to lengthen muscles, increase joint mobility, and improve balance and posture.  Researchers in Iran found that flexibility exercises like stretching the muscles may lessen spasticity and prevent painful contractions in people with MS.

Balance exercises involve shifting one’s center of gravity from side to side.  There is evidence that this type of activity improves balance and reduces the number of falls in people with MS.

balance exercise

Research shows a number of other physical activities also help improve function and quality of life for people with MS.


Yoga is a mind-body practice that incorporates various breathing, stretching, and meditation exercises.  It improves flexibility and strength while relieving stress and promoting calmness.  A small 2017 study found that an 8-week yoga program improved physical performance and quality of life for 14 adults with MS.

Tai chi is a martial art that focuses on deep breathing and slow, gentle movements.  A 2017 review concluded that Tai chi improves quality of life and functional balance in people with MS.  Authors also suggest there is evidence that it helps with flexibility, leg strength, gait and pain.

tai chi
kick boxing

Kick boxing is a form of martial art that combines boxing with elements of karate, in particular kicking with bare feet.  A small 2012 study showed a 5-week kick boxing program significantly improved gait speed and balance in people with MS who have mild to moderate levels of disability. 

It’s important to consult a doctor before starting an exercise program. They can assess your specific needs and may suggest working with a physical therapist.  A physical therapist can tailor an exercise plan to your unique symptoms and goals, ensuring you perform exercises safely and effectively. 

Safety is paramount when exercising, not just for people with MS, but for everyone.  Choose activities that reduce the risk of falls, or consider seated exercises to be safer.  If exercising while standing, it’s a good idea to avoid places with slippery floors, poor lighting, throw rugs, or other tripping hazards.  For added stability during balance exercises, consider using a wall, railing, or sturdy piece of furniture that won’t tip over. 


It’s important to warm up by stretching and ease into an exercise routine.  Knowing when to quit is also key.  Anyone experiencing fatigue, lightheadedness, overheating, confusion, loss of balance or coordination problems should slow down or stop exercising completely.  Always include a cool-down period at the end of your workout to allow your heart rate, body temperature and breathing to return to normal. 

match with flame

Overheating during exercise is a common issue for people with MS, as it can make their MS symptoms worse.  To avoid this, consider exercising in the cooler times of day, such as early morning or evening, and ensure you stay hydrated.  It may be useful to use cooling devices, wear lightweight clothing, and keep your exercise area cool with fans or air conditioning.  Taking a lukewarm bath or shower before and after exercising can also help regulate body temperature. 

Water exercises offer an additional solution to prevent overheating.  The feeling of weightlessness in water, combined with its mild resistance, provides an ideal setting for low-impact exercises.  Beyond swimming, a variety of activities can be performed in water, including weightlifting, balance training, walking, and stretching, making it a versatile and comfortable option for staying active.

The benefits of exercise for individuals with MS are clear, improving physical function, mental health, and overall quality of life.  However, identifying the most effective exercise routines for those living with MS requires a detailed understanding of one’s needs and dedicated research.  In this context, iConquerMS plays a key role, serving as a bridge between the MS community and scientific discovery. By collecting and analyzing data from those most familiar with the condition – people with MS – iConquerMS is instrumental in identifying best practices for exercise.  This ensures that individuals receive personalized, effective strategies to manage their symptoms and improve their well-being. Through such collaborative efforts, the role of exercise as an essential tool in managing MS is becoming more widely acknowledged, providing hope and direction for those navigating this difficult path.

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