UTHealth, YMCA, National MS Society create unique exercise and education program
Moving Stronger, an exercise and education program specifically designed for people with multiple sclerosis, will be launched in April by three institutions that are national leaders in their respective fields.
The program, which is free of charge and the first of its kind in the country, was created in a collaboration between YMCA of Greater Houston, McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) and the National Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society of Houston.
“We’ve all been working hand-in-hand to create a safe exercise and education program for people with MS,” said Leorah Freeman, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor and multiple sclerosis expert in the Department of Neurology at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. “The program was designed after detailed analysis of existing data showing the benefit of different exercise modalities and healthy living strategies in people with MS.”
While exercise was once discouraged for people with MS, evidence now shows that exercise in a controlled environment can help improve mobility and alleviate certain symptoms from the disease if done regularly.
“The YMCA of Greater Houston has a long history of serving communities in youth development, social responsibility, and healthy living. Moving Stronger is an exciting new offering and we anticipate that it will bring needed resources to those with MS,” said Lharissa Jacobs, director of Community Health for the YMCA. “The YMCA is the perfect setting to meet the health needs of the MS community through increased physical activity and social support.”
MS is a chronic, inflammatory and degenerative disease that affects the central nervous system. It is a leading cause of disability among young- and middle-aged adults, for which there is no cure. MS can cause fatigue, imbalance, weakness, stiffness, numbness and even cognitive dysfunction. It affects an estimated 2.3 million people worldwide and 400,000 in the United States.
“We are very excited about this new wellness program, Moving Stronger, and the collective work we are doing to bring wellness solutions to people living with MS. For a person living with MS, the road to wellness involves more than treatment of the disease and its symptoms,” said Elaine Liserio, associate vice president of Program Development for the National MS Society. “The adaptive wellness opportunities being created through supportive partners such as the YMCA of Greater Houston and UTHealth will make an impact and help people with MS live their best lives.”
The 12-week program will be held at the Trotter Family YMCA, 1331 Augusta Dr., and the Monty Ballard YMCA at Cinco Ranch, 22807 Westheimer Parkway. It will include 24 sessions of exercise, education and bonding discussions around subjects relevant to people with MS.
“It is very stressful for people with multiple sclerosis to go to a gym and most don’t have access to trainers with knowledge about their disease and disability,” said Freeman, who treats patients at UT Physicians, the clinical practice of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. “Moving Stronger aims to enhance participants’ overall mobility, to improve their quality of life through exercise and social engagement and to give them the tools to stay active consistently. My long-term goal is to make this program accessible to all people with MS, to empower each of them to take part in their care.”
During the first five weeks of the program, patients will learn different modalities of exercise, such as yoga, aquatics and circuit training, which consists of light cardio and weightlifting. The activities will then rotate with increasing difficulty according to the participants’ abilities.
“It has been repeatedly shown that exercise not only improves walking speed, endurance and balance, but it can also improve fatigue, one of the most common and debilitating symptoms of multiple sclerosis,” said Freeman.
The program will include an exercise specialist and yoga and aquatics instructors who are trained through the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, as well as in-person training delivered under the supervision of UTHealth neurologists, to fully understand the needs of people with MS.
“When an MS patient comes to the UTHealth Neurorehabilitation clinic, I provide a comprehensive assessment of physical and cognitive function,” said Nneka Ifejika M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of neurology and director of neurorehabilitation at McGovern Medical School, who worked with Freeman to develop the program. “But what about patients who do not have access to a comprehensive MS center such as the one at UT Physicians? By offering this program at the YMCA, Moving Stronger allows us to bridge the gap – to create a program, tailored to people with MS, delivered in their community – with the goals of directly improving strength, flexibility, balance, coordination and gait, and indirectly improving confidence and quality of life.”