Researchers have stacks of evidence supporting the importance of exercising when you have multiple sclerosis. But you don’t always need to crush it with high intensity interval training or participate in Ironmans or centuries. Sometimes a simple stroll outdoors is the key to refreshing the mind and just getting your body moving. Our resident pro triathlete Kelly Williamson explains.
I’ve long said that one of life’s most perfect forms of exercise is walking. Sure, running is great cardiovascular activity but it is hard on the joints, and anyone who runs regularly will encounter injury if they haven’t already. Cycling is practical but bikes aren’t cheap, and unless you’re cycling hard, it requires more time to acquire the same benefit physically. Swimming is wonderful but also necessitates time to scout out and get to a pool, and many who have not “learned” to swim will struggle to be able to utilize it as a form of exercise.
Don’t get me wrong, movement is great in any capacity, but walking seems to be the most simple, just getting out and putting one foot in front of the other, no matter the speed. It puts impact on our joints in a healthy manner, burns calories, and if we turn off devices and let ourselves take in the great outdoors, it decreases stress and clears the mind (something we all can use in this modern day world with constant bombardment from social media and technology).
Ditch the Hampster Wheel (Sometimes)
Over the years of going from swim to bike to run and repeating this process day after day, sometimes feeling like a hamster on a wheel, I’ve also learned to appreciate the beauty in walking. When I have had any setbacks (surgery recovery, injury, time off from structure training), I’ve often resorted to walking as my activity of choice (or only option). While at first it may drive me crazy, I’ve found that I quickly grow fond of it—I start to embrace it and even look forward to daily walks. The slower pace from running allows me to notice things on my usual routes I always overlook. The fact that it will take longer to finish “x” miles requires me to work on patience. And afterward, I don’t feel exhausted or depleted but often rejuvenated and refreshed. But even when I take “exercise walks,” I’ve found I do better when I have a route in my mind.
How long do I want to go for, where am I going, and what is my destination? Am I doing a loop, or an out and back? It increases my motivation and gives me a purpose to the activity. It gets me out the door and encourages me to have a plan, even if it is only to put one foot in front of the other for 5 miles, or 1 hour, or simply the duration of my chosen route.
Getting into a Rhythm
Our lives roll in cycles. Sometimes we find ourselves in a rhythm, feeling strong, healthy, productive, and accomplished. Things are humming along and motivation is the least of our concerns. Other times, the inevitable setback occurs. Physically we don’t feel great, or perhaps we transition with work and our future is uncertain. We find we’re using the word “stress” far too often. Maybe personal matters consume us, throwing constant distraction our way. We feel uncoordinated and aimless.
It’s times like these I find it best to know where we are going, even if it is only in the realm of our exercise. Physical activity is one medium in our lives that allows us to have control—over our bodies, over the moment—and often once we have a plan and implement it, we find our minds follow suit. Concerns of the day somehow get sorted out during exercise. We may not come to finite conclusions and solve world problems, but our minds feel a bit more at ease after moving our bodies. And while often “getting out the door” is the toughest part, simply putting a plan in place is often the first step.
Walking as a Routine
Make a schedule for yourself. Find resources to help it happen, whether it be a coach or a team to guide you, or a friend to meet up with to hold you accountable. Put a goal out there; no goal is too small. Maybe it’s to do an MS 5K walk, but if it is in 8 weeks, then you know you need to get moving to accomplish it and you have the time to do so, if you start to put a plan into action.
So ask yourself, “Where am I going?” What is it you would like to see yourself do? What is the route you need to get there? We all thrive on purpose. Decide what sounds appealing to you, commit to it, and start the process of getting there. It all begins simply with one foot firmly planted in front of the other.*
*Or if you are rolling, two arms turning in unison take you down the same path.