Of course, the reality of this will look different from person to person. If you’re dealing with MS symptoms that are so severe they inhibit your ability to be physically active, that’s also perfectly valid. Working with your treatment team may help you figure out how to best manage symptoms so you can add more movement back into your life.
3. Set long-term, incremental movement goals.
Bree Alvarez, 38, a high school teacher and Zumba instructor in California, was diagnosed with MS six years ago. Now she’s training for her fifth marathon.
“Setting a goal was definitely first on my list,” she says. “Once I set my mind to it, I knew it was going to be done.” At her first neurology appointment, she spoke with her doctor about changes to her diet and exercise routine that could help her get in better physical shape, and she committed to her first half-marathon not long afterward. By working toward a big goal, she was able to make small changes and establish momentum in her workout routines.
Binns has had a similar strategy in the past. She remembers a time in her disease progression when her symptoms confined her to a scooter. Even when she temporarily lost some of her mobility, she stayed committed to strengthening her legs. To help make this more achievable, she made various lifestyle changes, like reducing foods that may be linked to inflammation, such as dairy, and switching to medications that further controlled her symptoms. She says she was then able to build stamina week after week with the goal of leaving the scooter behind—and it worked. “It’s nothing for me now to walk a mile in the evening with my husband,” says Binns.
4. Choose exercise that you enjoy.
If you don’t like the exercise that you’re doing, you won’t be motivated to continue it. This may be especially true when you are using exercise to try to slow the progress of a chronic condition like MS. Binns puts it this way: “When somebody tells you what to do and it doesn’t feel right, you tend not to be as compliant with doing it. But if you determine what your body really needs and what feels right to it, you’re going to stick with that because it feels good.”
That’s why Courtney Platt, 33, has kept dancing, her professional and personal first love. Platt (who, yes, is related to Dear Evan Hansen’s Ben Platt) says that the first question she asked her neurologist when she was diagnosed with MS 10 years ago was whether she would be able to keep dancing. Fortunately, that doctor understood that dancing wasn’t just a physical outlet for Courtney, but a mental and spiritual one, too. “Her answer was, ‘You should never stop dancing—it keeps your body, mind, and soul strong,’” Platt says.
“Whether it is in my living room, on a stage, or in a gym, staying active is one of my top priorities—not just for my physical health, but also for my mental health,” Platt says. A former contestant on So You Think You Can Dance, Platt now teaches vertical climbing fitness classes from her home in addition to continuing to tour, act, and perform.