(22-28 April) is all about staying active with MS, and spreading the word about how exercise can help with symptoms, and help maintain good health and wellbeing. We spoke to one of our members, Amanda Phillips, who was diagnosed with MS three years ago, at the age of 42. But it was earlier this year, on New Year's Day - as she struggled with strength, particularly in her legs - that she vowed to get stronger, to prolong her working life and to make sure she made the most of the years ahead with her family. Moving from a physically demanding job in a local primary school was one thing (she's taken up a desk job this Spring), but she wasn't about to give up on mobility. Which is how she came to be a member of Halo. Here’s her story....
"I was finding myself so exhausted at the end of the day that I couldn't even manage to go a walk with my dog when I got home. I was surprised when my physio suggested a gym might help, to build my core strength, and strength in my legs. In some ways it was the last thing I fancied - I haven't been a member of a gym for years - but I was determined to do something.
"There were two big surprises. The first and so welcome one was the support I received. Sue, the personal trainer assigned to me at Ross Swimming Pool, understands MS and it became clear she supports lots of others with pre-existing conditions and other members who are recovering from ill health. She knew the language of MS and how it impacts on you and that is important to me. This is a condition affecting some 100,000 people in the UK, three times more women than men, and it impacts on the brain, spinal cord and damages the coating of nerves. I don't know anyone else living with MS and wasn't ready to join Halo's class designed for sufferers. Sue understood what I might be feeling and experiencing, so she not only devised a routine I could do in Halo's gym (and gave me advice on things like how to get up easily when I was lying down, which I find really painful), but exercises I could do at home if I am simply too fatigued to get into Halo.
"Sue also recognises that it isn't just the physical symptoms that stop you doing things. There is emotional side. Like having to give up a job I loved meant I simply didn't have the head space for the gym while I was dealing with that change. Or how, when I'm in the gym, I might only manage a few minutes on each machine, perhaps 20 to 30 minutes in all. There's never any pressure to do more. All the Halo team also understand that MS affects the brain as well as the body, so I might forget how to use the machine and there is never, ever any issue with that. One of the staff steps forward and simply takes me through it again. It's the kind of support I thought I'd have to pay extra for, the kindness and understanding I didn't really expect from my local leisure centre.
"The second big surprise was who else I found there. At first I was intimidated by the idea of a gym, especially given my condition. Would everyone notice I'd only managed three minutes on the cross trainer, or 10 minutes walking on the treadmill, of how after half an hour I go and sit down and read a book while my husband or daughter finish their workout? Will they notice I'm a little overweight? No they didn't notice. There are all ages, sizes, shapes and abilities in there and they are all there to work out at their own pace for their own reasons. No one ever judges me. I feel at home and I love that.
"I love it, too, that I can go and enjoy my workouts with my family. My husband is very fit and active but had never used a gym, but he and my 15 year old daughter, Isobel, signed up with me and we often go together. Which is how I come to be sitting on the couch at Halo on a Sunday morning reading my book while they finish their workout. But it's been good for us. They also help me with the machines and understand where I am at. I don't look like I have a disability. I don't walk with a stick. But they know what I need. When I am out shopping with my daughter she always finds a changing room with a chair, or knows I'll need regular stops. Without being asked she'll come over in the gym and help me put my foot in a stirrup as I struggle with movement in my feet. Without my MS we might have not done this together, but working out here has brought us even closer."