Exercise

Getting Active Again

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Posted By Scott

After two years of pandemic and its various lockdowns, I am getting active once again and trying to return to my regular level of activity. Pre-MS, I was very active and since diagnosis I have tried to maintain this as much as possible. It’s my entirely unscientific view that if exercise was good for me before, it’s still good for me now, both physically and mentally. How have I reintroduced myself to different exercise as Covid restrictions loosened.

Running

I’ve maintained my running throughout. When guidance was to go outside only once per day, I ran. I’ve never been a fast runner and the ever-present tingling and lack of bounce in my left leg doesn’t help but that doesn’t matter. I can still run a distance, hitting 10km regularly. Running has been particularly good for my mental health, going back to when I first started in the late nineties. However long the run, it gives me a time to clear my mind.

In September I returned to Parkrun at Victoria Park in Glasgow. I love the whole ethos of Parkrun. Volunteers give their time to provide free timed runs in parks across the land. The friendly and convivial atmosphere is welcoming and it’s a wonderful way to encourage people to run. Getting back to this has been wonderful, especially as the weather warmed.

I also start volunteering every few weeks. I want to play my part in providing this wonderful event. Usually I’ve been scanning the finish tokens so that everybody receives their time. This has been an absolute blast. All the volunteers have been lovely, there’s plenty of funny chat and then there’s greeting runners as they finish. From the speedsters to the walkers, everyone seems delighted to get their time and I’ve loved the brief chat with everyone.

So running never went away, thankfully, but I value it now more than ever before.

Hillwalking and Hiking

The other form of exercise available was walking. I’ve not been up any serious hills in the last couple of years but have manged a number of long walks. Over a few weekends, I walked chunks of the John Muir Way with a friend. The route follows the Forth and Clyde Canal so whilst the walks have been flat, they’ve been picturesque and enjoyable. One stint included from Auchinstarry to the Falkirk wheel and back, almost thirty kilometres. There were various walks with my wife in the Cowal Peninsula and Trossachs which were a lot of fun, scenic and, most importantly, rewarded with ice cream.

Casting my mind back to early days of diagnosis, I couldn’t walk much more than a couple of kilometres before getting the dreaded footdrop. Today, being able to do such lengthy walks without such symptoms and only stiff hips or knees is a relief. Is it another sign of Lemtrada doing its thing? Keeping active by walking and enjoying good company, good scenery and good food afterwards has been a joy.

Sunshine and scenic views at the Cowal Peninsula

Gym

Now for something that I hadn’t done in two years. I’d been a two / three times per week gym user going back thirty years but with lockdown, I hadn’t been since before my second Lemtrada treatment in February 2019. Even when gyms reopened, I was still cautious about going back. Towards the end of 2021 I ventured back. I went early in the morning, and it seemed reasonably quiet. That allayed my fears.

After seven months, with a couple of breaks for colds, I’ve settled into a twice a week routine. I’ve been doing full body weight routines focusing on the core moves of squat / deadlift / bench press / row / overhead press / pull down. I’m not as young as I used to be so these days I don’t try and shift heavy weights very often. However, training with lighter weights and high repetitions is allowing me to do good workouts in about an hour or so. I’ve never been and never will be built like the Hulk, but these workouts are helping my balance and muscle endurance. Keeping active in the gym is another way I can clear my mind. The post workout muscle soreness is still a thing though.

Martial Arts

Now this has been an odd one to get back to. Lockdown put the brakes on our training in March 2020. No physical contact obviously limited what we could do.

Early in the pandemic Bearsden Martial Arts Club went online, with virtual training sessions via Zoom. These proved a surprisingly effective way to train and keep our club together. We would regularly have 15 to 20 of us practising in our little Zoom windows. The sessions focussed on techniques, fitness drills and sequences, culminating in our Virtual Lockdown Knockdown Charity event in May 2021

Last summer, we restarted in person training, outdoors and socially distanced. We focussed on drills, movement and using a traditional karate weapon in the bo staff to keep apart. As much as the training was worthwhile, this was more valuable mentally. Just seeing friends in the flesh again was a huge boost.

Come the autumn and winter, we moved back in outdoors. With regular lateral flow testing prior to each session, we gradually reintroduced pad work, then parrying and then grappling. I was a little tentative, so I stuck to training with one person each week and we were our own little bubble to reduce any risk.

By February this year, I gradually returned to full training. Still keeping an eye on tests across the club but so far so good. In some ways getting back to this has been the most difficult to get back to physically. After two years fitness levels and body conditioning have deteriorated. Taking bumps on the mat, getting hit, they seem to hurt more than before but it is starting to improve (slowly). The fitness is still lagging though. Groundwork, sparring, pads, kata; they all use quite diverse types of fitness so it will take a while to build back.

Getting active with the martial arts still has physical challenges. There are things that can’t quite do as well as pre-MS. My left leg doesn’t move as quickly or smoothly as my right so kicking feels weird. However that’s my main limitation from MS. Practising still helps my balance and coordination to improve. The concentration required to in practise plus the increasing intensity levels again clears out the head of any negative thoughts.

My black belt had to be dusted off after two years

Getting Active Again

It’s undoubtedly been a challenge getting active to a pre-pandemic level over the last two years. However I’ve reached a point where I’m doing two runs, two gym sessions and two martial arts sessions most weeks. This is helping my fitness, my balance and my coordination and I believe that can only help me against MS. I’m not seeing any negative effects as I’ve increased my effort levels which is encouraging.

You’ll see I’ve mentioned the mental benefits of each activity. This is least equal to the physical benefits for me. I know I feel so much better for exercising and still being able to push myself is rewarding. When running, working out or practising martial arts, I focus on those activities, there’s no room for negative thoughts. Walking with good company might result in venting, laughter, conversations both serious and nonsense. Again that helps so much in dealing with negative thoughts and I come away from these days feeling refreshed.

I realise I am incredibly lucky that MS hasn’t restricted my training too much. My intention is that for as long as I am physically able, I will continue to train like this. The benefits make that worthwhile. For me getting active and more importantly, keeping active have helped me deal with and navigate my way through both the pandemic and the four years since my MS diagnosis.