March 11, 2002
By Jack Williams
Whenever Mark Ockenfels' core temperature rises, so does a caution flag. Cool it, his body seems to be saying. No need to fan the flames of multiple sclerosis.
Is it any wonder he's afraid to work up a sweat? Or even take a hot shower, for that matter?
"Even a warm shower used to leave me so fatigued to start the day that I would have to lie down for 20 minutes," he said.
Yet Ockenfels, a free-lance sound engineer, knew he needed to do some kind of exercise just to control his weight and gain some stamina.
Diagnosed with MS 12 years ago, he had seen his mobility progressively decline. Most of the time, he needed an electric scooter to get around. The signals his brain was sending to his muscles were either delayed indefinitely or lost somewhere in his body's scrambled circuitry.
Ockenfels, 42, still has his share of bad days. But a regimen of resistance exercises devised by Jonathan Gill, a personal trainer who routinely accommodates clients with limitations, has given him renewed strength, mobility and endurance.
"For me, it's a combative tool to minimize the ongoing effects of MS," Ockenfels said. "I'm better able to manage it since I started this program in September."
Instead of using his scooter up to 70 percent of the time, he's cut back to about 10 percent. "In most situations I use a cane," he said.
If it weren't for his MS, Ockenfels and other patients who need to avoid overheating might opt for a StairMaster, Lifecycle or elliptical trainer. In Ockenfels' case, the alternative is a controlled environment at Gill's Fitness in Mission Valley, where, cooled by a fan, he exercises different muscle groups three times a week.
The emphasis is on stimulating muscle fibers by eccentric loading – the lowering rather than lifting phase of a muscle contraction – while avoiding a significant rise in body temperature.
Because MS is such a random disease, causing a range of symptoms, what works for Ockenfels isn't necessarily applicable to all the estimated 5,000 MS patients in San Diego County.
But a rise in core temperature is common. So traditional strength work, with quick repetitions, and endurance exercises can be counterproductive.
Gill found that the lowering, or eccentric, phase of a muscle contraction is more easily achieved in MS patients. Plus, it's a prerequisite for developing new contractile proteins, which result in added strength.
Once you begin to build strength, it facilitates any activity involving that muscle. "These efforts can be performed at any pace, so that body temperature can be more easily managed," Gill said.
It's even possible, he said, to do a single repetition, wait five minutes, then perform another and still attain the desired result.
"Before, when I worked with my left leg, it would jitter and shake," Ockenfels said. "Now I have better control of my leg, heel and toes. The muscle twitching has been minimized dramatically."
Many MS patients with similar problems will either be participating in or lending their support to one of San Diego County's biggest fund-raisers of the year: the 2002 MS walks Saturday in Carlsbad and Sunday in downtown San Diego.
More than 8,000 are expected to take part in the 5K and 10K events beginning at 7:30 a.m. The North County walk starts at the Carlsbad Flower Fields on Paseo del Norte, between Palomar Airport Road and Cannon Road.
The San Diego walk begins at Embarcadero Marina Park North, behind Seaport Village. There's no entry fee. While pledges from donors are encouraged to raise funds for the cause, they are not required to enter, said MS Society spokesman Rick Griffin.
For registration information, call (800) 344-4867 or (858) 467-9255
or visit http://www.mswalk.com
© Copyright 2002 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.