No gym? No Problem!
How the internet can be used to improve livelihood for people with Multiple Sclerosis
Physical activity is an important component to health and wellbeing, but many factors discourage or prevent us from incorporating exercise into our lives. Barriers include high costs, such as gym memberships or group exercise fees; poor accessibility, including transportation and facility design; and limited knowledge about what type and how much activity is appropriate. Individuals with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) – a degenerative neurological disease – lose their mobility over time, which often affects their overall wellbeing. Physical activity is a great option to maintain optimal health; however, most individuals with MS are less active than the general population.
Motl, Dlugonski, Wójcicki, McAuley, and Mohr (2010) conducted a study to determine if their internet intervention for increasing physical activity in individuals with MS was effective. In this study, adults with relapsing-remitting MS were randomly assigned to the internet intervention program (23 participants) or put on a waiting list with no intervention (25 participants) for 12 weeks. The internet intervention was in the form of a website that had text and videos organized into four modules (Getting Started, Planning for Success, Beating the Odds, and Sticking with It). Participants also had access to online chats twice per week, were encouraged to record their daily activities, and could call or e-mail the researchers any time for support. After 12 weeks, the intervention group was significantly more active and more likely to set physical activity goals than the waiting list group. In addition, self-efficacy and physical activity expectations increased slightly and disease severity decreased slightly for those in the intervention group.
Overall, the online program encouraged participants with MS to set more exercise goals and therefore improved physical activity patterns in day to day life. Interestingly, participants in the intervention group signed into the website less and less over the 12-week testing period, which could mean that they were less motivated to be active or that they relied less on the online materials. Regardless of fewer sign-ins, these participants were still more active than those on the waiting list, suggesting that the internet intervention boosted personal exercise behaviours, with only a few weeks of use. Online programs such as that of Motl and colleagues (2010) reduce the barriers to physical activity highlighted above (cost, accessibility, and knowledge) and may improve life-long wellbeing for those with MS. It would be great to see more of these programs available to the public, but for now this study highlights the importance of making goals to increase physical activity.
If you want to set your own goals but don't know where to start, check out the Setting Goals for Physical Activity worksheet created by the Alberta Centre for Active Living. This guide helps you to identify SMART goals based on your current activity patterns. Go ahead and get active!