diseases like multiple sclerosis and lupus often rob people of their
independence and compromise their quality of life. But more and more,
exercise is being recognized as an effective therapy in helping
improve symptoms, and even modifying the progression of certain
exercise significantly increases the level of brain-derived
neurotrophic factor ó a protein that stimulates the production of
neuron stem cells. "BDNF is like Miracle-Gro for the brain,"
says Dr. Bhupendra Khatri, a neurologist with Wheaton Franciscan.
That marks a
dramatic shift in thinking from just a generation ago when medical
professionals believed that once stem cells were damaged they never
evidence points more and more to the healing benefits of physical
activity, doctors are prescribing exercise as medicine. "Exercise
creates a chain of events in the body and brain that promotes
healing," says Khatri.
For people with
multiple sclerosis, depression is a common side effect ó at least 50
percent living with MS experience the condition at some point during
But on a bright
Wednesday morning in late February, the mood is decidedly upbeat in
the fitness room at Wisconsin Metal Parts in Waukesha, where a group
of people with MS talk animatedly and exchange barbs as they do floor
work and ride stationery bikes.
who joined the exercise group in January, admits she was hesitant to
come at first.
want to be around negative people who complained," says the
Waukesha resident who was diagnosed with MS in 2012.
she finally gave the group a try, Zylka found the atmosphere to be
anything but gloomy. "All people do here is encourage each other
and push each other," she says. "Thereís lots of laughing
While itís no
secret that exercise can improve peopleís mood and general
well-being, thereís growing evidence that working out can improve
ó or at least maintain ó cognitive function in people with MS.
exercise has an anti-inflammatory effect," says Khatri. Thatís
an important benefit for people with MS, as inflammation breaks down
the myelin sheath that surrounds and protects the nerves.
knows firsthand about the healing benefits of exercise. Diagnosed with
MS at the age of 39 after a severe attack from the disease left him
unable to walk, Erschen turned to exercise at the suggestion of a
family member. At first, he could only do the elliptical for five
minutes, but after a few months he was up to 30 minutes. Within three
years, he was running marathons, and now at 52, Erschen has competed
in three Ironman triathlons.
experience motivated him to open his companyís fitness room two
mornings a week to people with MS. In less than a year, the group has
grown to 18 ó all by word of mouth.
sessions are offered for free. For Erschen, seeing peopleís
attitudes change as they become stronger and more confident is more
than enough payment. "They go from saying ĎI canít do thatí
to ĎIím going to do that,í" he says.
That means a lot
to Shannon Guetzke and Lynn Groth. The friends, who met in an MS
support group, have been attending Erschenís exercise group since
late December. "The volunteers are amazing," says Guetzke.
"Youíd have to hire a personal trainer to get this kind of
attention at a gym."
"The group has been a godsend," she says. "It gives us
a reason to get up and get moving."
According to Dr.
Chrstopher Cronsell, a psychiatrist with Wheaton Franciscan, positive
thinkers generally do better and are able to combat disease more
effectively. "Thereís good evidence that exercise can change
attitudes," Cronsell says.
exercising can even make a difference in patients who are
wheelchair-bound or bedridden. Being confined to a wheelchair
certainly hasnít stopped John Haupt. Aided by walking poles and a
volunteer, the Wauwatosa resident can often be found doing laps around
the shop floor adjacent to Wisconsin Metal Partsí fitness room.
"This is a community," he says of the exercise group.
"We get motivation from each other. Just being here lifts your
exercise is proving to be an effective therapy for some
autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis, other conditions
like arthritis, which affects peopleís joints, make physical
activity painful. But many people suffering with arthritis are
finding relief in the pool. "Water is an ideal environment
for relieving arthritis pain and stiffness," says Jeanette
Prince-Hestetune, aquatics director for the Tri-County YMCA in
teamed with the Arthritis Foundation to develop a warm-water
exercise program to help people with arthritis keep their joints
moving and reduce pain. Classes are offered at YMCA facilities
throughout the metropolitan Milwaukee area. "The program
enables people with arthritis to exercise without putting excess
strain on their joints and muscles," Prince-Hestetune says.
to Prince-Hestetune, warm water is key in helping relieve the
pain and stiffness caused by arthritis. During classes, the pool
is kept between 90 and 92 degrees. "The warm water helps
improve flexibility and range of motion," she says.
the waterís buoyancy provides gentle resistance to build
muscle strength and support joints for easier movement.
the Arthritis Foundation YMCA Aquatic Program takes place in the
pool, people donít need to know how to swim to participate.
Prince-Hestetune says the classes are suitable for any fitness
level and theyíre led by certified instructors.
also offers an AFYAP Plus class, which includes 15 minutes of
more of a challenge," she says.
the physical benefits associated with aquatic exercise, thereís
the added benefit of social interaction, which can help decrease
feelings of depression and isolation among participants.
"The classes definitely help build confidence and
self-esteem," Prince-Hestetune says.