Share on Pinterest
Illustrations by Brittany England

Exercise offers a long list of benefits, ranging from mental to physical. While those benefits stand for everyone, regular physical activity can help control symptoms like exhaustion if you’re living with multiple sclerosis.

“Exercise reliably improves aerobic and muscular fitness, walking and balance outcomes, symptoms of fatigue and depression, and quality of life,” says Dr. Robert Motl, director of research and professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Health Professions, department of physical therapy.

He also mentions positive effects on anxiety and pain, and that movement can improve quality of life specifically for those with MS.

Tons of research backs up these movement advantages for those with MS, including one 2020 meta-analysis, which found that regular physical activity can improve fatigue that stems from the disease.

Exercise also helps stave off illnesses, like heart disease and diabetes, and promotes bone density.

“Some of the treatments and side effects of MS, some factors that we would normally be of concern for adults, like bone density, may be even more important for someone with MS,” says Dr. Carol Ewing Garber, program director of applied physiology at the Teachers College, Columbia University.

She also mentions that exercise can help those with MS function at their best, improving physical limitations and cognitive effects, like brain fog and mood challenges.

“It might feel counterintuitive for fatigue, because if you’re so exhausted you can’t do anything. But if you actually get up and move it can make you feel better,” she adds.

While it can feel like a ton of effort to get up and move, Garber says doing so every day (even for just 10 minutes) can help.

That movement can include anything — like sitting in your chair and stretching, practicing yoga, tai chi, or Pilates, or getting up for a 30-minute walk.

What you want to look out for, however, is not doing so much that you’re super tired the next day.

“The thing you want to avoid is going all out, because one day you might feel great, but then you can do too much,” Garber says.

The key is to start slow, progress gradually, and move according to how you feel.

“It is important to pay attention to how you feel afterward, because you should feel better. Your muscles might be tired, that’s normal, but not so tired that you can’t function,” she says.

Motl also suggests avoiding exercises that up your risk of falling.

This list of gentle resistance training exercises is a great starting point for those with multiple sclerosis, Garber says.

After you get the proper form down, you can up the ante using light ankle weights for the lower body moves and light weights or resistance bands for upper body.

As you get more comfortable with each move, you can add more weight, just as long as you don’t lose technique.

Go for 8 to 15 reps of the moves below and start with one set, adding more sets as you get stronger.

Cat-Cow

  1. Begin on your hands and knees in an all-fours position, with your shoulders over your wrists and your knees under your hips.
  2. Inhale as you arch your back, lifting your tailbone, head, and chest.
  3. Exhale as you round your back, tucking your chin to your chest and drawing your belly button up toward your spine. Repeat.

Bridge

  1. Begin by lying on your back on the floor or a mat, with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor and your arms down by your sides.
  2. Squeeze your butt and raise your hips off the floor to form a bridge.
  3. Hold for a few breaths then slowly lower back down. Repeat.

Pelvic tilt

  1. Begin by sitting straight up in a chair with your arms down by your sides and relaxed. Look straight ahead, with your head, shoulders, and hips in one straight line.
  2. Take a deep breath in to fill your lungs fully, then slowly exhale and pull your stomach muscles in, slowly curving your pelvis under you and pushing your lower back into the back of the chair. You should form a C-curve position with your spine.
  3. Hold for 3–5 seconds, then slowly inhale to straighten your lower back and pelvis back into one straight line. Repeat.

Front arm raise

  1. Begin by sitting straight up in a chair, arms down by your sides and relaxed. Look straight ahead, with your head, shoulders, and hips in one straight line.
  2. Extend your arms straight out in front of you to shoulder height, palms facing down.
  3. Then lower back down to your sides and repeat.

Overhead arm raise

  1. Begin by sitting straight up in a chair, arms down by your sides and relaxed. Look straight ahead, with your head, shoulders, and hips in one straight line.
  2. Slowly raise your arms overhead, biceps in line with ears, palms facing away from you. Keep your elbows and wrists straight and shoulders relaxed away from your ears.
  3. Lower your arms back down to sides and repeat.

Side arm raise

  1. Begin by sitting straight up in a chair, arms down by your sides and relaxed. Look straight ahead, with your head, shoulders, and hips in one straight line.
  2. Slowly raise your arms out to the sides to shoulder height, palms facing down.
  3. Lower your arms back down to your sides and repeat.

Wrist flexion

  1. Begin by sitting straight up in a chair, arms down by your sides and relaxed. Look straight ahead, with your head, shoulders, and hips in one straight line.
  2. Hold a rolling pin, umbrella, or 1-pound weight in each hand to start. Place your forearms on a table in front of you, palms facing down.
  3. Lift the object by extending your wrist, pulling your hands toward you. Keep your forearms on the table.
  4. Lower back down and repeat.

Forearm rotation

  1. Begin by sitting straight up in a chair, arms down by your sides and relaxed. Look straight ahead, with your head, shoulders, and hips in one straight line.
  2. Hold a rolling pin, umbrella, or 1-pound weight to start, vertically in one hand, palm facing inward and forearm on a table in front of you.
  3. Keeping your forearm in contact with the table, rotate your forearm outward, bringing the object toward the table.
  4. Raise the object back up toward center and as far as possible inward toward the table.
  5. Repeat, alternating sides and moving slowly to keep the object from flopping.
  6. Switch hands and repeat.

Sit to stand

  1. Begin by sitting tall in a chair, on the couch, or on a bench. Look straight ahead, with your head, shoulders, and hips in one straight line.
  2. Place your hands on your knees and push down through your hands as you simultaneously push through your feet to stand up tall.
  3. Push your butt and hips back as you slowly sit back down, hands coming back on your knees. Repeat.

Side leg raise

  1. Begin by standing with your feet slightly apart, weight evenly distributed on both feet.
  2. Lift your right leg out to the side, keeping your knee straight and toes pointing forward. Hold.
  3. Slowly lower back down and repeat.
  4. Switch legs and repeat.

As always, it’s best to chat with your doctor or physical therapist before starting any exercise routine. And if you’re experiencing a flare up, Garber says it’s probably best to back off of exercise a bit.


Mallory Creveling, a New York City-based freelance writer, has been covering health, fitness, and nutrition for more than a decade. Her work has appeared in publications like Women’s Health, Men’s Journal, Self, Runner’s World, Health, and Shape, where she previously held a staff role. She also worked as an editor at Daily Burn and Family Circle magazine. Mallory, a certified personal trainer, also works with private fitness clients in Manhattan and at a strength studio in Brooklyn. Originally from Allentown, PA, she graduated from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.