June 30, 2020 | News | Living with MSMS Research

Walk & stop – the benefits of taking a break

The benefits of exercise are well known – both to maintain overall health and to help with difficulties specific to multiple sclerosis. Three 20-minute exercise sessions a week will help control blood pressure, weight gain and blood sugar levels. Keeping active will also strengthen and improve muscle function, reduce fatigue and brighten your mood.

Exercise doesn’t have to be an Olympian endeavor. The simplest and least expensive exercise is walking, and a tour around the block after dinner is enough to maintain basic fitness. Walking is so central to fitness and doctors use walking tests (such as the Timed 25-Foot Walk, which pretty much describes what’s involved) as a measure of disability in people with MS.

A walk around the block can be a challenge for those with difficulties walking or significant MS fatigue. But a new study has found that taking periodic rest breaks can boost a person’s overall exercise capacity. The study was presented at the annual meeting of the Consortium of MS Clinics (Karpatkin and colleagues. CMSC 2020; abstract REH15).

The study compared two groups of people with MS: Continuous Walkers and Intermittent Walkers. All of the participants had a moderate level of disability. The Continuous group walked for as far as they could without taking a break. The Intermittent group alternated 30 seconds of walking with 30 seconds of sitting down, keeping to that pattern until they had had enough. On average, the Continuous walkers went about 1,000 feet (about 300 metres) before they had to stop. The Intermittent walkers averaged about 1,500 feet (about 460 metres). The Walk & Stop approach took longer, but people were ultimately able to maintain their best walking speed for longer and were able to travel about 50% farther overall.

So during an evening walk there’s a benefit if you want to stop and smell the roses, pause to window shop, or take periodic breaks while at the mall (if they ever re-open). A Walk & Stop pattern can help you gradually work up your endurance, enabling you over time to walk longer with fewer breaks. After taking the first steps to fitness, if you’re feeling more ambitious you can then choose to incorporate other exercises – such as aerobics or strength training – to improve your overall fitness and to help with specific MS-related problems you may be having.

MS fatigue is very sensitive to temperature so the best times to go for a walk are when it’s cooler outside – either early morning (when your body temperature is at its lowest) or in the evening. Use a walking aid if you have problems with your balance or gait. Bring water if you’re going to be out for an extended period. And maintain a safe distance from others, for such are the times we live in.

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