Multiple Sclerosis

Lower Body Strength Vital to Neurological Health

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A study found that having strong legs slows the damage caused by neurological diseases.  The study addressed the question:  “Is the outcome of neurological diseases [spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), motor neuron disease, and multiple sclerosis (MS), and others] due exclusively to the lesions that form on the spinal cord in the case of spinal cord injury and genetic mutation in the case of SMA, or is the lower capacity for movement the critical factor that exacerbates the disease?"

They took two groups of mice: a control group that was free to roam and an experimental group that was restricted from using their hind legs for 28 days.  Restricted the physical activity of the mice resulted a 70 percent decrease in the number of neural stem cells compared to the control group.

The study stated,  “People who are unable to do load-bearing exercises -- such as patients who are bed-ridden, or even astronauts on extended travel -- not only lose muscle mass, but their body chemistry is altered at the cellular level and even their nervous system is adversely impacted,"

The conclusion: “The research shows that using the legs, particularly in weight-bearing exercise, sends signals to the brain that are vital for the production of healthy neural cells, essential for the brain and nervous system. Cutting back on exercise makes it difficult for the body to produce new nerve cells -- some of the very building blocks that allow us to handle stress and adapt to challenge in our lives.”

At our Austin Strength Training and New Orleans Strength Training facilities we use MedX equipment.  With the equipment’s many medical-rehab features we can accommodate those with limiting conditions.  Our clients with neurological conditions such as MS, Parkinson’s disease, and stroke have shown significant improvement. 

Overall, it’s important for everyone to stay strong, not just those with neurological conditions. Being strong helps forestall potential issues brought on by the frailty that comes with aging.

Avoiding the onset of osteopenia 

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You can wait until your bone density decreases and then do something about it or you can be preemptive. What follows is the story of one person’s preemptive strategy.

One of the many applications of corticosteroid drugs is to manage the symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS).  One of the side-effects of long-term use of corticosteroids is thinning of the bones (osteopenia). For those taking corticosteroids the Mayo Clinic recommends:

“To protect your bones, do weight-bearing exercise [strength training], avoid alcohol and don't smoke. Taking calcium and vitamin D supplements is another step you can take to help reduce the amount of bone loss caused by corticosteroids.”

Corticosteroids are often prescribed for asthma as well. I take a corticosteroid when my asthma flares.  I start at 60 milligrams and taper down to 10 milligrams.  Imagine taking intravenous doses of 1000 milligrams of corticosteroids for five straight days and doing that four to six times a year.

Glenn, one of the trainers at our Austin Strength Training  facility, has been taking those high doses to manage his MS symptoms. In his words, he has been taking “an ungodly amount of corticosteroids” for 13 years. 

Glenn is 52 years old, and he takes no calcium supplements. He began doing high intensity strength training shortly after being diagnosed with MS – once a week, for 30 minutes for more than a decade.  

The T-score on a bone density test shows how much your bone mass differs from the bone mass of an average healthy 30 year old. For Glenn’s latest bone density test they were expecting a T-score in the range of -1.5 to +1.  A T-score in the range of -1 to +4 is considered normal.  He was surprised to learn his test result was 3.  His bones were remarkably stronger than what they expected.

Another client, Wendy began weekly 30 minute strength training sessions. Twelve months later her bone density had increased 12.4%.

As osteopenia advances to osteoporosis it becomes less reversible. Don't wait until you have osteoporosis; take steps avoid the onset now.  That’s what Glenn and Wendy have been doing.

The benefits of strength training for MS patients

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It was once believed that exercise was bad for those with Multiple Sclerosis (MS); a recent study concluded otherwise.  A quote from the study1:

“Physical training can relieve many of the symptoms, including the excessive fatigue and mobility impairments that are often seen. New research now shows that resistance training may protect the nervous system and thus slow the progression of the disease.”

And this:

"Among persons with multiple sclerosis, the brain shrinks markedly faster than normal. Drugs can counter this development, but we saw a tendency that training further minimizes brain shrinkage in patients already receiving medication. In addition, we saw that several smaller brain areas actually started to grow in response to training,"

There is a long list of benefits from proper resistance training; for those with MS the list is even longer and more vital.  At our Austin Personal Trainers and New Orleans Fitness Training locations we have worked those with MS since we first opened our doors.  We use MedX exercise equipment.  With its medical rehab features, we are better able to work with those with compromising conditions.

One of our trainers, Glenn, has MS and has been training with us for 10 years.  He had this to say about the workout:

“Our workout is high intensity, but short in duration, so it's a perfect routine for MSers (especially with heat intolerance - a very common symptom).  And unlike standard workouts, you get through a full body workout before your MS symptoms can flare due to a rise in core body temperature.”

“Perfect routine of MSers”, it is beneficial for a number of other conditions as well – arthritis, diabetes, osteopenia, back problems, stroke