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How to find the right gym to help manage symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis

MS Essentials - FitnessRecently I decided to include more exercise into my routine to help me manage some MS symptoms that had been giving me trouble.  I found myself looking for the right gym to help me do this, one that provided a safe and inclusive environment.

Going to the gym isn’t a straightforward activity for a person with a chronic illness. You can’t just turn up to the nearest location, and off you go. I had done this once before and found myself part of a boot camp class of the ‘if you’re not throwing up, you’re not working hard enough” variety. This was not the right environment for me, and I left feeling embarrassed and ashamed.

This time around I took my time to find the right place for me, and after meeting with some gyms, I was able to find group classes that could help with my symptoms, such as pain and fatigue, and were also 100% inclusive and spoonie friendly.

The following is my guide to narrowing down the search to finding the right gym to help you manage your MS.

See your doctor

The first step of embarking on a new exercise program for someone with a chronic illness is to see your doctor. Your doctor can help identify what type of exercise would be of most benefit to your condition, and what level of training is safe for you to do.

Start building a routine

Before my MS diagnosis, I used to launch into new exercise regimes ‘cold turkey’. If I were to do that now, I would end up doing more harm than good. So I begin by improving my fitness habit by doing familiar exercises that I’ve done recently, so yoga and walking in this instance, on a more frequent basis. A doctor will be able to instruct you on where to begin if you’re just starting out.

I can also ‘road tests’ my ability to maintain a commitment towards exercising regularly before I splash out on a gym membership.

I continue with this until I have developed a good routine and I feel my body is ready for something a bit more challenging.

Identify what you want from a gym

Start by identifying what kind of gym is right for you.

I was looking for a gym that:

  • Had a range of classes that were suitable for my fitness level
  • Was somewhere inclusive, that would recognise that sometimes, just being there was an achievement
  • Can provide plenty of options during group workouts
  • Caters for people with disabilities and understands their need

My approach to finding the right gym was a little more like a job interview.

Firstly I checked what was available in my area which offered suitable group classes.

Finding the right gym for MS

Group classes are just a personal choice of mine, I find I get more enjoyment in this kind of setting. My feelings are if I am working out alone I might as well work out at home.

I also checked which gyms were registered with my health fund, as I can get a rebate for fitness classes, but did not limit my list to just those locations.

Call and arrange a meet and greet

I made a short list of the gyms I was interested in and contacted them for a meet and greet and tour of the gym facilities, which usually included a free pass to try out some classes as well.

My experience is that gyms are more than happy to do this, as this is a potential sales lead. Do be prepared for follow up calls after your trial period has ended though. I found a simple “thank you, but I found a gym that better suits my needs”, is sufficient. In the end, none of the gyms I visited was overly pushy at the end of my trial period.

Meeting with the gym

When meeting with the gym, I explained my condition and what sort of exercises had been recommended by my physiotherapist, in return they showed me which classes would be best suited to my goals and unique benefits of their gym.

All the gyms I approached had been very understanding and helpful.

Before you join

Before you sign on the dotted line make sure you have received, in writing:

  • Membership options, e.g. contract, flexible membership, class passes
  • Membership costs, including fees and charges.
  • Contract periods & terms and conditions
  • Minimum joining period, if any
  • Cancellation policy & procedure and cancellation fees
  • Gym rules
  • Payment methods & option

Why I chose one gym over the others

Meet with the gym

Of all the gyms I checked out, I opted for one close to home. It was not eligible for a health fund rebate, but it did offer a cheaper membership fee without a lock in contract.

Price was not the only deciding factor

Price was not the only factor in my decision making; there were several factors as to why I chose one gym over the others:

When I walked into the gym, there were people there of all ages, shapes, sizes and abilities, including disabilities. I felt very comfortable there.

The staff were welcoming and offered as much support and advice as needed, without gouging you for extra cash for the extra one on one time.

The gym also offered to work with my physiotherapist, which was a unique selling point.

The class instructors were just as approachable and friendly, and were attentive to individual needs, even though it was a group environment. They gave plenty of options during classes so I never felt like I couldn’t keep up but I also had options if I wanted a challenge.

Exercise and Multiple SclerosisBenefits of exercise MS

Exercise is proven to be beneficial for people with Multiple Sclerosis and provides a range of benefits, including improvements in balance, coordination and cognitive function.

I’ve been going to the gym for about a month now, and after the first few weeks of trying to find my feet and the discomfort of waking up muscles that haven’t been used in years I have to admit, I’m hooked!

There is a lot more I have in store regarding this topic which I will continue in next weeks post – a guide to group classes, which will be a bit of a review of the group classes I have tried so far.

In the meantime…

Your mission should you choose to accept

If you have been thinking of increasing your fitness, or have been thinking of joining a gym, I encourage you to give it a try. Talk to your doctor about suitable exercise options. Then Google gyms in your area, pick up the phone and arrange some meet and greets. The first few weeks may feel like a challenge, but once you start feeling the benefits, you won’t regret it. Go on…Give it a go.

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  1. This was great information! I really want to join a gym as I know it is good to stay fit dealing with MS. I just have not done this yet. I think I am honestly a little scared to join because my pain gets too high sometimes.

    • I understand completely, I was so scared of going to a gym for the longest time. That’s why a doctor’s visit in the beginning was so valuable for me. It really helped me understand what is safe and within my limits. My doctor referred me to different allied health professionals to help me get ‘gym ready’. After that it was really down to finding that one gym that had experience working with people with disabilities. The gym I go to now is a small independent gym, and they run it like the people who go there are family. I genuinely love going there. None of the big chain gyms had that kind of atmosphere.

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