Managing Multiple Sclerosis Through Cycling

Posted 11/30/15 by Momentum Mag in Health and Wellness

Roxanne LeBlanc on the Peace Bridge in Calgary, Alberta | Photo by Karin Olafson

This article by Karin Olafson originally appeared on Momentum Mag on Oct. 19, 2015.

Growing up on the Canadian prairies, Roxanne LeBlanc spent plenty of time on her bike. She continued to cycle as an adult and was the picture of great health. Until one day LeBlanc was out shopping, and everything changed.

Something was wrong. Her left arm suddenly felt heavy, and then her left leg did. She couldn’t walk and had no idea why.

After years of visits to doctors, a CAT scan and an MRI, LeBlanc was officially diagnosed with relapsing and remitting Multiple Sclerosis (MS) when she was 35 years old. This is a relapsing or progressive disease where the immune system attacks the fatty tissue around nerve cells. The symptoms are different for everyone—there are four kinds of MS—but common symptoms can include: trouble balancing, blurred vision, numbness, fatigue and pain.

LeBlanc, now 60, chose to manage her symptoms by focusing on stress management and aerobic activity. Instead of participating in drug trials and taking medication, LeBlanc rides her bike to help manage her MS symptoms and postpone relapses. She bikes everywhere: to run errands, to  [attend] social events and, when she was working, to commute to work.

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Physically, cycling improves LeBlanc’s cardiovascular fitness and balance; she attributes the effective management of her MS to her regular activity. “And the aerobic activity releases endorphins, a natural painkiller,” said LeBlanc.

Mentally, cycling also became a way for LeBlanc to challenge herself. “To encourage myself, I started a journal to see how much I was cycling.” In 2005, she reached a 3,100-mile (5,000 km) landmark. Each year after that, LeBlanc used her bike more to run errands and commute, starting earlier in the year. In 2013, LeBlanc cycled 6,835 miles (11,000 km).

“Cycling also helps me with the stress of the diagnosis,” said LeBlanc. “Even when I wasn’t feeling well, I’d hop on the bike, and it would help me feel better. It makes me feel like a kid again but also reminds me of my independence.”

While cycling has helped LeBlanc manage MS for 25 years, it isn’t a cure. LeBlanc experienced another relapse in 2014 and had to cut back on how much she rode. However, she still runs errands by bike and acknowledges that cycling is integral to her current health and integral to her successful management of the disease.

More than two decades after her diagnosis, LeBlanc still tries to get on her bike every day and encourages others to do so too. She also plans her holidays around bike-friendly cities.

“My plan is to continue riding for as long as I possibly can—for the rest of my life to be exact!” said LeBlanc.

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