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Still a Gym Rat: Exercise & MS

Before I was diagnosed with MS, and for the first few years afterward, I was dedicated to my exercise programs. My ideal workout time was early morning, because all I had to do was wake up, get my feet on the floor, and lean forward. The next thing I knew I was at the gym.

After my MS diagnosis, I continued to visit the gym on a regular basis. Eventually, when my legs became too weak, I had to give up on the aerobic exercise and the lower body weight lifting. But I still maintained my upper body workouts – even when I started using a cane, two forearm crutches, and then a scooter. Finally, it became too much, and I stopped going to the gym in 2006.

MOGFast-forward to 2013. My neurologist told me about a facility in South Portland called the Medically Oriented Gym, or MOG. Saco Bay Physical Therapy works one-on-one with patients like me at the MOG. In September, I had my first appointment with Gabe, a physical therapist. We talked about goals. I wanted to maintain or improve the range of motion and strength in my upper extremities. Also, I would welcome anything they could do for leg strength and flexibility, but I knew that would be a more difficult task.

Gabe measured my strength and range of motion to establish a baseline. He then worked with his associate, Jodi, to develop a program for me. Over the past nine months Jodi has incorporated a variety of stretching routines and exercises to strengthen specific muscles and maintain or improve my flexibility. Gabe has evaluated my progress on a regular basis. I have at least maintained and even improved in some of his measures. It’s a beautiful thing.

Gabe, Jodi, and the rest of the team are consummate professionals. Not only do they understand the mobility issues I’m facing, but they exhibit sincere empathy. They know when to push me hard and when to back off. They constantly come up with creative new ways to challenge my muscles to do anything and everything they are still able to do.

I generally have two one-hour sessions per week, and I plan to keep this up indefinitely. In my case, insurance is picking up 100% of the costs.

The benefits I experience from my workouts at the MOG are more than physical. There is an emotional component as well. I always feel more positive about my life when I am fighting back against this creeping paralysis. And even in the days before I became disabled, I experienced a boost from my gym workouts if for no other reason than I was getting out of the house and moving around. That still applies.

This physical therapy program isn’t going to overcome the relentless attack that MS is waging on my central nervous system. My overall physical well-being is continuing to deteriorate, and I don’t expect it to stop. But the work I am doing at the MOG allows me to maintain as much strength and flexibility as I possibly can, for as long as I possibly can. I encourage everyone with MS or other similar conditions to “use it or lose it.” If you live in the greater Portland area, I recommend Saco Bay Physical Therapy and the MOG. If you live elsewhere, find a physical therapist and a gym that you can work with.

If you’re a healthy person, and you’re not getting regular exercise, are you just trying to piss me off? You enjoy such good fortune, yet you do nothing to nurture and protect it. Don’t make me come over there and kick you in the ass, because I will.

One of the exercises Jodi has me do is to lie on my back (which is no small feat) and execute bench presses. Before MS, I could do three sets of ten with a substantial weight on the bar. I would grunt and strain and put everything I had into each repetition. When working with free weights, I always had a spotter, because if the weight were to land on my chest or neck it could have been dangerous. But today I am bench pressing a broomstick, and I still grunt and strain and put everything I have into each repetition. Last week I said to Jodi, “You better stay here and spot me, because if I get pinned by this broomstick I’m not sure I’ll be able to breathe.”

We laughed and laughed. I’m a funny guy.

Read more from Mitch at his blog, Enjoying the Ride.
Learn more about the MOG on their website.

“Still a Gym Rat” From Enjoying the Ride
Copyright Mitch Sturgeon, May 2014

MFN Contributing Author