Research shows that exercise is not just a way to ward off disease. It can also help alleviate pain, fatigue, and weakness associated with neurological disorders like multiple sclerosis (MS).
Research shows that exercise does more than ward off disease. It also helps to alleviate pain, fatigue, and weakness associated with neurological disorders like multiple sclerosis (MS). However, finding the right type of exercise can be rather difficult.
Gina Daddazio, a woman with MS, discovered an exercise routine that helped her and now, it is helping other individuals as well.
A safer way of building muscle and functional strength
About ten years ago, Daddazio prided herself on the fact that she maintained an active lifestyle. She was always running, working out, and playing sports. But when she started having trouble staying on her feet and was constantly falling, she knew that something was wrong. “I couldn’t figure it out after going through orthopedic appointments. Then they send you to a neurologist, and the neurologist does your spinal tap and told me, ‘yup, you have MS’” said Daddazio. After her diagnosis, she had no idea what to expect. “Lifting weights, or standing up and lifting weights, you might lose your balance. There were other classes that I couldn’t take - I would overheat too quickly, my body would shut down” she said.
Daddazio was not exactly discouraged when she received her MS diagnosis. She knew that staying active was the best approach to combating her symptoms and to maintaining her health. “There are certain ways of controlling things over time. You learn that after being diagnosed. You start to study it and understand how your body works, and for each person, it’s so different.... The idea is that you have to keep your body moving, and I’ve found that that’s my No. 1 thing” she said. “If you don’t keep moving - and that’s for everyone, but it’s a million times worse for somebody with MS - getting back up from being down so low gets so much harder” she added.
It was Daddazio’s positive outlook that led her to try out TRX, a suspension-based workout. TRX involves the use of a system of ropes and webbing to allow participants to work against their own body weight. The idea behind this alternative workout is to develop muscle strength, flexibility, balance, and core stability at the same time. “You don’t feel like you’re going to drop a heavy weight. You’re holding on to these straps and they’re going to keep you there. You’re not going anywhere. It’s the security of having something that’s going to help you with your balance, but also work those muscles and maybe take a little bit of weight off of you, especially for beginners who aren’t familiar with those muscles” said Daddazio.
Part workout, part support group
Now, Daddazio teaches a suspension class at YMCA - specifically for MS patients. From her own experience with MS, she knows better than anyone else of what can serve as a safe and effective workout for her fellow group members. Her class focuses on small movements and a decreased number of repetitions /sets because fatigue is a major symptom for individuals with MS. By pulling on the straps instead of seats, these individuals can overcome both mental and physical fatigue, all the while building muscle. “I don’t care if you step into this room and do nothing. If you left the house, got into the car and got to the gym, that’s a huge goal” said Daddazio. “With MS, you celebrate things in smaller increments” she added.
42-year-old Josh Comolli of West Chester, a member of Daddazio’s class, added that the workouts are beneficial. “I still can’t stand for extreme long periods of time, but I can stand much longer than I used to” he said. For Josh, the benefits extend far beyond stronger muscles. “It helps with energy during the day, and actually being able to turn off and rest at night” he said.
Another member of the class is Nagat Mohamed, who was diagnosed with MS seven years ago. “I’m now comfortable. I saw a lot of people who have the same as I have” she said. 63-year-old Sue Ellen Larkin is also a member who strives for consistency. “It’s a thing about getting out of the house regularly. It’s hard to make yourself tired” she said.
According to Daddazio, everybody is in the same boat and the key is to remain active and to have a positive attitude. “I’ve heard of people that have taken their lives and there’s a high suicide rate for people with MS. My thing is that if you can get your mind in check, everything will follow” she said.
Since being diagnosed with MS, Daddazio has given birth to two children. She continues to refuse to let MS stop her from accomplishing her goals and dreams. “Kids were part of my future plans, I wasn’t going to stop what plans I had for my future” she said.
Smiling through life’s challenges
Through her suspension class, Daddazio aims to teach individuals coping with MS that they should keep their minds positive and keep moving. “There’s always an upside to everything, to every situation. I try to teach people in the group how to look at your worst possible scenario and turn it -- flip it for the better, in a sense” she said.
Regardless of her focus on staying positive in the face of adversity, Daddazio emphasizes that feelings, such as anger and sadness, are completely normal. However, sharing these feelings in a group setting can help. “If you feel better when you leave here then you did when you walked in, then I’ve done my job for the day. This is a safe place to discuss challenges and how to overcome those challenges” she said.