Staying Active with MS – on Your Own and With Others

Older man outside exercising

1 Apr 2023 | ~6:30 Engagement Time


Roz Kalb , Psychologist


Kathy Costello , Nurse Practitioner & Mandy Rohrig , Physical Therapist


Finding ways to stay active, engage in sports, or continue playing on their favorite team is a priority for many people with MS. Learning what’s possible as well as safe can help you keep your life as full and fun as you want it to be. Let’s start with the basics: 

Accessing Your Situation

Think about what aspects of physical activity are most important to you.

  • Fitness 
  • Competition 
  • Socializing 
  • Stress management 
  • Something else

Ask yourself which of the following describes you best: 

  • I’ll do it the old way or no way…. 
  • I want to continue doing what I love even if I have to do it differently 
  • My biggest priority is to be with others while enjoying a shared activity 
  • I’ve always been competitive but that doesn’t work for me any longer 

Ask yourself whether your abilities have changed since your diagnosis or with normal aging, and if so, how.

  • Fatigue is my biggest issue – I just don’t have the same energy I had 
  • I have stiffness and/or weakness that make it harder for me to move around 
  • My balance just isn’t what it used to be – I have fallen or almost fallen many times 
  • I have lots of sensory changes, like pins and needles in my feet, which makes it hard to feel the ground and stay steady 

Share your interests, questions, and concerns with your healthcare providers, particularly your primary care physician, neurologist, and physical therapist, before you start or resume any physical activity or sport. They will work with you to match your interests with your abilities.  

Making Adjustments

Here are some suggestions on how to move ahead with your physical activity and exercise options.

  • Let yourself grieve over things that have changed. None of us likes to give up things we love or change the way we do them, whether it’s due to MS, aging, or anything else. Feeling sad and frustrated is normal. It’s also the first step to planning what comes next. 
  • Discuss your MS symptoms with your provider to figure out which of them can be managed in a way that would allow you to participate in activities you love. 
  • Use the 5 P’s (planning, prioritizing, pacing, positioning, and the power of tools).
    • Plan a rest time before and after engaging in extended physical activity. 
    • Prioritize if it’s important to you, make sure you carve out time for it in your week. 
    • Pace yourself.  Stop before you hit the wall; you’ll be able to enjoy it longer if you don’t push yourself too hard or too long. 
    • Position yourself to be successful. If you need to sit for an activity, then sit. Upper body work offers aerobic, strength, stretching, and posture work. 
    • The Power of Tools, such as mobility aids and other adaptive equipment, can help you keep doing things you love – kayaking, skiing, golf, pickle ball, bowling, among others. 
  • Consider your environment and think about your fluid intake. Staying well hydrated will improve your energy. Using cooling devices will help you to stay cooler – but if you get overheated and feel your symptoms acting up, just take a break, have a cold drink, and allow you body temperature to return to normal.    
  • If being active with others is the most important thing for you, look for yoga, tai chi, water aerobics classes, or adaptive sports that allow you to share the fun. Motorized bikes, three-wheel cruisers and tandems offer opportunities for cycling with others. And consider walks or hikes (with or without walking poles) for beautiful scenery, good conversation, and great exercise.  
  • Maybe competition is what feeds your soul. If you get your adrenalin running by pushing your hardest to win for yourself or your team, you may need to get your head around different types of competition. Competitions for people with disabilities are challenging. If competitive sports are no longer possible, look for other ways to put competitive spirit to work – with indoor games, virtual games, contests, or puzzles.

Connecting with Others

  • Many friendships are built around shared sporting activities – weekly tennis or golf games, the bowling team, neighborhood touch football or rugby games. If these activities aren’t possible any longer – or you can’t keep up with the others – you may find that some of these friends drift away. For those folks, the activity is more important than the relationship. Other people will be happy to find different ways to enjoy your company or modify the activities so you can continue to do them together. These are the true friends – and they will consider options and adapt with you.  
  • If your MS is interfering with activities that you have always shared with your support partner, it’s important to work together to figure out solutions. 
    • Can you modify the activity or use adaptive tools that would allow you to continue playing together? Golf is a great example of this kind of shared activity. 
    • If adaptations don’t work, find something else that you can enjoy while your partner continues to play golf occasionally. It’s important for your partner and your relationship that they have the opportunity to continue things they enjoy. 
    • Be sure to look for activities to share that you might not have done before – like cycling, hiking, kayaking, swimming – that offer plenty of options for you to try. 


Staying active, being competitive, and maintaining connections with others are all possible. The path to success involves paying attention to your body, being willing to do old things differently or try new things, using tools and devices that help you stay mobile and safe, connecting with others who share your interests, and giving yourself grace to be the best you can be without necessarily being the best there is.