Woman finds rigorous exercise helps her battle MS
Monday, April 1, 2002
Dispatch Accent Reporter
Woman finds rigorous exercise helps her battle MS By Dennis Fiely
onspicuous among the morning exercisers is a middle-aged woman who walks haltingly from one weight machine to another.
But when Diane Clever sets aside her canes to pump iron or pound pedals, she blends in with the other fitness buffs.
Clever credits regular workouts with mitigating the symptoms of multiple sclerosis, a disease of the central nervous system that can lead to paralysis and blindness.
"I know in my heart that if I didn't exercise I would be in a wheelchair," Clever said.
Weakness on her right side extends to her big toe, which she is unable to raise from the floor. The "foot drop" -- a common symptom of MS -- subjects Clever to face-forward falls when walking.
"I could never use a treadmill," she said. So she raises her heart rate on an elliptical trainer, a machine that mimics walking while Clever's feet remain planted on its steps.
Members at the New Attitudes Aerobic Weight Loss and Tanning Center on Morse Road admire Clever's tenacity.
"She is an inspiration for all of us," said trainer and general manager Steve Beaver.
Even though Clever has a progressive form of MS, Beaver said, "I've seen nothing but progress in her strength and flexibility."
He used to help her on and off the machines and adjust the seat height. "I remember when she could not pedal an elliptical trainer for two minutes," he said. "Now she's on it for an hour sometimes."
Clever combined exercise with a Weight Watchers diet to lose 73 pounds in 51 weeks.
At 54, she is huffing and puffing at her high-school weight -- 138 pounds.
Clever learned she has MS in 1990 and immediately followed her doctor's advice to rest. "I just got weaker," she said.
Although the former physical education teacher had always been active, her deterioration persuaded her to defy her doctor's recommendation and pursue a structured physical fitness program.
She began swimming at Ohio State University and Westerville Athletic Club before switching in the mid-'90s to weight and aerobic machines at New Attitudes.
Physicians then were just beginning to endorse exercise for MS patients.
"Many neurologists did not think exercise was good for patients," said Andrea White, an MS researcher at the University of Utah. "One problem was body temperature. People with central nervous system disorders have more symptoms when their body temperature goes up."
Studies since have shown that the symptoms subside in about 30 minutes, when body temperature returns to normal, White said.
During the past decade, researchers at the University of Utah and elsewhere have demonstrated that exercise preserves function and improves attitude.
It also shortens the duration of "exacerbations" -- MS flare-ups that can last for days or months -- and speeds recovery from them.
"Exercise tires me out," Clever conceded. "When I'm done with the cross-trainer, I move real slow. But the more I work out, the faster my strength comes back. I used to take a nap after my workouts. Now I sometimes hit a bucket of golf balls."
Research at Cedar Crest College and Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown, Pa., has focused on the psychological effects of exercise on MS patients.
A recent study that compared an exercise group with a sedentary group showed that the exercisers experienced "significant" reductions in episodes and severity of anxiety and depression, said Diane Moyer, chairwoman of the psychology department.
It also found that exercisers felt as if they had more control over their disease.
"With MS, you often feel like the disease is controlling you," said Clever. "Exercise gives me a sense of control over the disease."
Some researchers speculate that exercise may actually influence the disease process by moderating the immune system or neutralizing cell-damaging molecules known as "free radicals."
But White cautioned against the false hope of a cure through exercise. So far, the evidence limits its benefits to a better quality of life.
"There is no cure yet," said Clever. "But I am trying to put everything that is healthy in my pot. I think exercise helps me function as best I can. I'm able to clean my house, take care of my pets and work in my garden. And I can still walk short distances without my canes."
Clever works out in the gym for one to two hours, three to four days a week. She also takes a weekly yoga class and adheres to a low-fat diet.
She is convinced that exercise and diet are helping her refrain from having to take powerful medications that have been shown to prevent flare-ups and reduce brain lesion development.
Motivated by her physically challenged students, Clever taught adapted physical education in Columbus Public Schools for nine years with MS, until the disease finally forced her to quit in 1999.
After quickly gaining 20 pounds, she began to diet and exercise more rigorously.
Nevertheless, she realizes her disease demands moderation in the gym to prevent injury and other complications.
"I know I can't go out and run," she said. "But when I see somebody running, I think, 'Oh, I'd like to do that.' Am I happy to have MS? No. Would I get rid of it in a minute? You bet."
The Columbus office of the Ohio Buckeye Chapter of the National MS Society offers two exercise classes for patients.
Copyright © 2002, The Columbus Dispatch