A regular walking regimen is a great way for many people to get a good cardio workout, build endurance and stamina, and connect with friends. This is true for those with and without multiple sclerosis. For those with MS, however, problems with gait can be one of the more common mobility challenges, which makes walking more difficult. This is due to a number of reasons: muscle weakness, muscle tightness (spasticity), balance loss, sensory deficit, and fatigue. Yet, walking is one of the best exercises to help manage those symptoms. Many people find that walking with a friend increases the motivation to stay with an MS walking regimen. Talk to your healthcare team about walking and then follow a few commonsense tips:
- Invest in good walking shoes. Don’t buy shoes that don’t support your feet and provide much-needed stability. Shop at a reputable store that will spend time fitting the right shoe for your needs.
- Stretch it out. Anyone, regardless of their health status, needs to stretch their muscles before any workout, and that includes walking. Try simple stretching exercises for five to ten minutes before going walking.
- Go slowly to warm up. Don’t start out at too fast a pace, or you may overstress your muscles. Warm up by starting out at a leisurely pace and then slowly increase your speed.
- Don’t overdo the distance. Work up slowly so you can stay with a regular regimen and don’t bring on a bout of MS fatigue due to over-exuberance.
- Try walking poles. Long-distance hikers use them for added support when knees and leg muscles tire, so why not try them for your MS walking routine? Walking poles can help greatly if your MS symptoms include balance problems, muscle weakness or spasticity. As with walking shoes, find a good sports apparel or accessory store and talk to them about the right kind of poles for your situation.
- Invest in a basic pedometer. People tend to walk more each day if they’re keeping track of the number of steps taken, so buy a basic pedometer to track your steps. It’s a great motivator to keep an MS walking program going, because as you build up your number of steps, you’re encouraged to keep going even further.
- Take a friend or find an MS walking group. Many people find they have greater commitment to an exercise program if they enlist the help of a friend or group to keep them on track. Walking with others with MS also provides an informal supportive community for those who want to talk about the challenges of MS during their walk.
Remember, regular exercise may help you manage your MS symptoms, so get out there with a friend or support group and start walking!