Multiple Sclerosis and Heat
Multiple sclerosis is a unique disease that affects the body’s immune response to the central nervous system. Instead of working in harmony, the immune system causes inflammation within the central nervous system, which damages the protective myelin that insulates our nerve fibers. There are several different types of MS, which are used to categorize the progression of the disease. Every type has similar symptoms, but they vary in terms of severity and frequency.
How does heat impact those living with MS differently? Heat can be dangerous for people with MS because even the slightest elevation in their core body temperature can trigger symptoms. While generally the worsening of symptoms is only temporary, it can be dangerous to experience unexpected blurred vision, sudden fatigue, numbness, and tremors if you’re out in public or alone.
Exercises to Try This Summer
Focus on Core Strength
As MS progresses, it often attacks nerve cells that help regulate basic functions like muscle strength and balance. To help combat this, it’s essential to strengthen the core with low-impact exercises like the bird dog, glute bridge, and standing wood chop. We love this detailed article by Health Central of the 10 best strength exercises for those with MS. They recommend aiming to do several sets of 8-10 reps of each exercise as you can.
MS can also affect your balance over time, making it difficult to move without assistance. To combat this, it is important to strengthen your arm and leg muscles and improve your balance. Exercises that can help with this include standing leg lifts, stationary lunges and exercises with chairs as demonstrated below.
To improve flexibility, strengthen muscles and avoid the heat all at once, try exercising in a pool. According to the National MS Society, water helps people with MS move in ways they may not be able to on land while keeping their body temperature cool. There are exercise routines in the water where patients with MS can focus on building endurance, strength, and flexibility, and many local gyms and fitness centers have guided classes with trained water exercise instructors.
Keep These Safety Tips in Mind
There are several ways people with MS can minimize the risks of overheating while working out in the summer months.
- Exercise in an air-conditioned room, so you’ll stay cool even during rigorous physical activity.
- Avoid going outdoors in the hottest parts of the day. If you like to keep limber by going on a daily walk, stick to walking in the early morning or after dusk.
- Invest in cooling products designed to keep your core temperature regulated such as portable fans, headbands, vests, and other accessories that hold small ice packs. We love this list of approved Cooling Equipment Information and National Vendor List by the National MS Society.
It’s essential for people with MS to stay hydrated during the hot summer months. We recommend keeping your water in an insulated water bottle to ensure you always have cool water when needed, and stocking up on cold foods, such as popsicles. Eating a popsicle or crushed ice cubes can help quickly lower your body temperature.