Living and Training With Multiple Sclerosis
By AURORA COLELLO
One of my all-time favorite family movies is Forrest Gump. I can't help but think of a famous line in this movie and replacing "life" with "multiple sclerosis":
"MS is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get!"
This could not be truer. MS affects each person diagnosed in a totally different way. Some are affected cognitively, perhaps by memory loss, while others are as sharp as they ever were, but they are confined to a wheelchair. Each day you can wake up with a different symptom -- or no symptom at all.
In 2008 I suddenly experienced vision loss in my right eye (optic neuritis). I was told it would be permanent. Thankfully, it wasn't, but my doctor diagnosed me with MS, an incurable progressive disease. I was told that I had 10 lesions on my brain that could put me in a wheelchair within five years because of their locations.
When you're diagnosed with something as serious as MS, the last thing you think of starting -- and the first thing you give up -- is fitness.
Because I was always skinny I thought I was healthy, so I never worked out. I didn't have a gym membership, and I couldn't run a mile. I didn't even own a pair of running shoes!
But fitness saved my life, and today I'm a triathlete with more than 21 triathlons under my belt. Later this year I will be competing in my second Half Ironman and the Nautica Malibu Triathlon in September.
Thanks to diet changes, fitness and other lifestyle changes, I am not in a wheelchair and able to manage my symptoms. So how do you train with a diagnosis like MS? Whether you were a pro athlete before your diagnosis or are just getting your first gym membership and running shoes, here are my tips on how to begin:
1. See How You Feel
I'll never forget my fear as I laced up my first pair of running shoes to run my first full mile. I had read over and over again that when your body temperature rises it can aggravate and cause symptoms. I ran, and then I waited and waited for a symptom to begin, but nothing happened. While many MS patients don't do well in the heat, I excel in the heat and don't do well in the cold. Just give it a try: Go for a run or a swim and see what feels right.
I always make sure to stretch for at least 10 to 15 minutes before and after my workouts. Stretching can help prevent shrinkage or shortening of muscles and can reduce the severity of spasticity symptoms, from which many people with MS suffer. You can find great stretching videos on YouTube for any level, even if you are in a wheelchair or have to use a walker.
3. Get Moving
What works for one person with MS might not work for you. I love to race Half Ironman triathlons, in the heat. You might like to swim in the pool or ride your bike. Even if it's just a brisk walk, get moving. The key is to find something you enjoy to keep you active. Incorporating cardio helps with many MS symptoms, such as depression and fatigue. Studies have shown that raising your heart rate can help reduce lesions and help in stopping the progression of the disease.
4. Stay Positive
Mindset is a huge part of fitness. Many times your mind gives up far before your body ever will. Stay positive and don't get discouraged if you can't do the things you did before. Try something new or tweak your workouts to suit what you can do. It can be frustrating being unable to do the things you could do before, but it's important to be patient with yourself, stay positive and focus on what you can do.
Readers -- Do you or anyone you know suffer from MS? Does staying active help alleviate symptoms? How do you manage MS symptoms? Leave a comment below and let us know.
Aurora Colello was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2008 and refuses to let her condition define her. She is a sponsored triathlete and a health and wellness writer/speaker and later this year, is competing in her second Half Ironman and the Nautica Malibu Triathlon in September. Aurora is passionate about optimal health and sharing with people that they can live a preventative lifestyle. She currently lives with her husband of 14 years and their four children in San Diego, California. Visit her website for more information and follow her blog.