Four years ago today I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. My world was turned upside down. My faith was stretched and ultimately strengthened (MS=Made Strong). Part of my journey is what I have been sharing on this blog. I recently wrote a book called Fearless which is a more complete picture of my trials and tribulations. If you are interested, it can be found at http://www.westbowpress.com, or Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It is available as e-book, hardcover or paperback. If you read it, I hope it blesses you as much as it blessed me to write it!!
In my last blog post I talked about food and drink. It’s only right that I now talk about exercise. In a recent article on www.everydayhealth.com, Dr. Linda B. White, says “If regular physical activity didn’t make your list of New Year’s resolutions, add it now. Your life depends upon it.”
(I found Everyday Health by accident, and I really like it. You can sign up for a specific illness or disease or just get general information. There are MS bloggers on it, including Trevis Gleason, who wrote Chef Interrupted. He has MS and he lives in Ireland.)
I was an athlete in an athletic family. My father was an All-American hurdler at The Ohio State University (yes, the same one that got schooled by Clemson). My younger brother was a diver as well as a state ranked pole vaulter. My older brother participated in baseball and football through junior high.
I participated in age-group AAU swimming from ages eight to seventeen. I traveled extensively throughout the Midwest and swam both long course (fifty-meter pools) and short course (twenty-five-yard pools). I was most successful in the short course meets as it was in twenty-five-yard pools in which I trained. While in high school, I trained with the local college men’s team and was faster than at least half of the men! I was very excited when I became a Junior Olympic champion in the hundred-yard free. After my age-group experience, I then swam in college from ages eighteen to nineteen. I was blessed to compete at the collegiate nationals as a freshman in Tempe, Arizona. I was a sprinter, swimming mostly freestyle and backstroke. I swam some Individual Medley races (swimming butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle consecutively in one race) but didn’t like those races as much as I had a weak breaststroke.
I also loved teaching swimming to younger kids at age fourteen. I received my WSI (Water Safety Instructor) certificate at eighteen. I lifeguarded and taught swimming every summer through college.
Before my diagnosis I was experiencing a lack of mobility. I loved to walk two to three miles every morning. My right foot started dragging and I was tripping and falling a lot. I also saw changes in my ability to swim. When I couldn’t swim and walk as I used to, I was devastated, especially not knowing why. Walking involved tripping and stumbling. I could not perform a whip kick anymore (for breaststroke), and my right arm flailed around instead of a nice, straight recovery and strong stroke for backstroke. When I swam freestyle, I experienced similar issues with my right arm. But I wasn’t swimming a lot then, so I ignored the signs, as I felt confident that the doctors were right that there was nothing “wrong.”
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Multiple Sclerosis Association of America, and other MS organizations believe that exercise is vital to overall health. And I couldn’t agree more due to my experience as a competitive swimmer growing up and through college. I love the sport and love the activity. Now, I swim three times a week, and it is necessary to my overall physical and mental health. I can swim twenty to twenty-five minutes and still have enough energy to shower, dry my hair, and drive home.
I like the showers at our fitness center. The showers are about four and a half feet square with hand rails on three sides. I can hold on with one hand and shampoo, condition, and rinse with the other. Using the hand rails allows me to close my eyes without falling over. Then, I keep my suit on while I use the blow dryer. If I would dress and then dry my hair, I would get too hot. And when I get overheated, my symptoms increase exponentially.
As I mentioned above, I used to love to walk. I would walk two to three miles several mornings each week. I could walk a mile in twelve to thirteen minutes. Now I use a recumbent cross trainer at least once a week. I have progressively increased speed and resistance. I never was a runner, so I simulate a walking speed (albeit slow—about seventy steps per minute). I can simulate walking a mile, which takes about thirty minutes, whereas outdoors I can barely do one-third of a mile without being totally wiped out. When I am outside and in difficult terrain, or have to walk long distances (one to two blocks) or in new surroundings, I use a cane and move very slowly, with lots of concentration.
I continue to do physical and occupational therapy five days a week. And yet, between the fatigue and the mobility issues, I feel like I have become very lazy. I have to pace myself and not do too much in one day. I need longer periods of rest and recovery in between activities. I plot out my weekly schedule with that in mind.
I have started taking a medicine called Ampyra. It is dubbed the walking pill. It is not a disease modifying therapy but a symptom based treatment designed to help improve walking. In healthy nerves, signals travel over myelin, which is the protective layer that surrounds nerves. MS breaks down the myelin. This damage to the myelin effects the nerves ability to conduct signals. It can also lead to symptoms such as walking difficulties. Ampyra helps strengthen the nerve signals to coordinate walking. I have seen a marked improvement in my walking as well as the ability of my right hand to do certain tasks. Not only am I walking better, it has also improved my swimming.
The bottom line is, I intend to keep as much strength and mobility as I can and never give up. Not only is my body healthy but exercise is also good for my mind. Every day life can cause stress on our bodies. One positive way to combat stress is through exercise. Physical activity helps to bump up the production of your brain’s feel good neurotransmitters called endorphins. And small increases in aerobic fitness improves mental fitness, particularly executive functions of the brain, which have to do with planning, coordinating, and filtering out distracting information
There is tons of information about exercise and MS and exercise and brain activity on the Internet. I’m sure you can do an extensive search and find out more than I have shared here. I realize that I may have different experiences due to my competitive experience. I have a degree in physical education and sports administration which allows me to have the knowledge of exercise and its benefits.
That doesn’t mean that you have to be me. Do what you can do every day. Start small, find something that you like to do, and do it with increasing frequency and intensity (however small that may be). You’ll feel better, I promise!!
Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God? 1 Corinthians 7:19-20