Note to My MS Self: Get Off Your Duff!
Life has been extraordinarily busy lately. Not only have I been taking care of normal business, Rob and I have been taking care of his mother and also fitting in some fun things for ourselves. For example, last week we completed the 2-day Bike MS Chesapeake Challenge in Eastern Maryland. For the first time ever, I rode my bike for 34 miles in a single ride. Whoohoo. Then on the next day, I repeated the effort and rode 32 miles. Before these rides, the farthest I had gone was about 23 miles.
During the Bike MS ride, I had planned an exit strategy — if I got too worn out, the weather was horrible, or I felt otherwise unfit to continue, I was going to take advantage of the support van and hitch a ride to the next rest stop or the finish line. Fortunately, I didn’t need to do that as my team mates cheered me on and kept me going.
Planning for the future
Although I’ve worked hard to build up my bike riding skills in the past year, I realize that there is much more I could be doing to protect my physical future. With my mother-in-law’s recent struggles, I see up close how important it is to be able to move your own body around. She was never much of an exerciser and now that she needs extra muscle strength to be able to maneuver herself, she simply doesn’t have it.
I’ve taken her situation as a warning to myself, and to you. No matter how well you think you are doing, or how horrible you feel, it is vitally important to maximize your physical strength and abilities. Always.
With multiple sclerosis, you might have plenty of muscle, but if the nerves arbitrarily decide to not tell some of them to fire when needed then the muscles become weak. As a result, other muscles might have to work extra hard to take up the slack. Basically, all your muscles need to be as strong and flexible as possible to help balance this out.
If you are like me — someone who has experienced muscle weakness, gone through physical therapy, but is doing pretty well — this post is mostly for you.
Get off your duff!
I know what you are thinking (figuratively points finger at myself): I’m fairly strong already. If I start to become weaker, I’ll just start lifting weights to get stronger. If my legs start to have trouble, I can go to physical therapy again and everything will get better. I know which exercises I need to do and I will start doing them when I have more time.
You’ve probably heard other people with MS talk about how keeping their body in shape has become their “job.” Perhaps these folks are already on disability and it seems they have more time on their hands than you. Or maybe it seems like they were exercisers to begin with so you imagine it is fun for them.
Well, guess what? If these are your thoughts or excuses for not systematically working each muscle group to the best of your ability on a routine basis and making sure that your cardiovascular system is healthy, get off your duff right now and move your body!
Don’t wait for later
You need as much reserve strength as possible to compensate for that time in the future that you aren’t able to easily get up out of a chair, or use your arms to transfer from seat to seat, or push yourself up out of bed, or otherwise move your body.
If you have a set of weights or exercise bands and know how to use them, start using them NOW!! If you find yourself walking by those exercise tools and think to yourself, I’ll come back to that later, STOP and complete a slow, controlled set of 10 repetitions for each muscle group that needs boosting. If you are able to get on a bike or walk around the block, even with the assistance of a cane or walker, DO IT!!
Don’t wait for later. Later might rush up to bite you in the butt. Only YOU have the power to take care of yourself. This is particularly important for those of us who are currently doing well and feel little to no urgency to make any dramatic changes to our routines.
I don’t care what kind of exercise you do — walking, weights, exercise bands, yoga, tai chi, swimming, biking, gentle stretching, standing on tiptoes 10 times while you are brushing your teeth — it doesn’t matter. Just do something.
We who are strong and healthy need to keep ourselves that way for as long as possible. And hey, exercise helps boost emotional and cognitive health as well. It’s a win-win all around.
Be well my friends,