Eat, play, relax: These are three key ways to ease the grip MS has on your life. Anything that helps you feel more in control of your MS seems to be very beneficial, says clinical psychologist Nicholas LaRocca, Ph.D., vice president of health-care delivery and policy research at the National MS Society in New York City.
Indeed, a Temple University study found that women with MS who engaged in healthy behaviors, such as eating well and exercising, were more active and reported having a better quality of life than women who didn't. In short, having MS didn't hold them back as much as it did women with a less healthy lifestyle. So, start feeling your best and living well with MS today!
How to Eat With MS
A variety of diets, such as the low-in-saturated fat Swank Diet, have been touted as therapeutic for those with MS. But there's no conclusive evidence. Instead, most experts encourage a balanced, low-fat, high-fiber diet to counteract fatigue and GI issues and help manage your weight. "Studies show that people with MS who are overweight don't do as well as those who are at a healthy weight," says Dennis Bourdette, M.D., director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland.
Your what-to-eat guide:
Pick fiber-filled foods
MS can interfere with signals that instruct your bowels to empty, but whole grains and raw fruits and veggies can help keep things moving. Shoot for 25 to 30 grams of fiber and about eight glasses of water daily to stimulate bowel movements.
Up your antioxidants
Antioxidants help promote the growth of healthy cells and protect them from damage and may help fight disease progression that leads to MS lesions. Fill your plate with at least five daily servings of brightly colored produce such as broccoli, carrots and pomegranates. Other antioxidant-rich foods include beans, legumes and flaxseed.
Wild salmon, lake trout and tuna are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids, thought to help fight inflammation throughout your body. Try for two servings weekly and ask your doctor if you need a supplement.
Stick with low-fat foods
Less than 10 percent of your total daily calories should come from saturated fat. To help hit that target, opt for lean cuts of meat, fish and poultry and low-fat dairy. Also, use healthy fats, like olive or canola oil, in your cooking instead of butter, margarine or vegetable oil.
At one time, experts thought exercise might make MS symptoms worse, says LaRocca. But today, we know aerobic exercise, strength-training and stretching improve mobility, increase strength and help ease a number of MS-associated symptoms and complications, such as fatigue, digestive issues, bone loss and depression.
In addition, research published in the journal Brain Research suggests exercise may help you think more clearly. The Ohio State University study found that people with MS who were fit performed significantly better on cognitive function (such as memory) tests.
Consult a physical therapist before diving into a workout program. He or she will likely say that doing aerobic exercises such as walking, aquatic exercise or kickboxing three to five times a week is a smart idea. A University of Dayton in Ohio study in the Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies on people with MS found that 75 percent had better balance after doing two hours of kickboxing each week for eight weeks.
Another good move: Strength-training two to three times weekly. Using resistance bands or weights helps muscles contract, which, in turn, boosts strength, endurance and bone density. Finally, stretch your calves, hamstrings and upper thighs each morning and before a workout.
But take care: Pushing too hard if you're already fatigued and getting over- heated can make symptoms worse. Always exercise in a cool environment and stay well hydrated.
Find Your Balance
While feeling stressed and fatigued often goes hand-in-hand with a chronic illness, learning to relax can help. In fact, 87 percent of people with MS-related chronic pain felt less discomfort after three months of self- hypnosis classes, finds a University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle study published in the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis.
To help keep fatigue in check, try these tips from the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation:
- Know your body: Learn to recognize the signs of approaching fatigue. Rest before exhaustion strikes.
- Break activities down: Instead of tackling a task all at once, divide it up into manageable steps.
- Avoid irritants: Stay away from smoke, fumes and extreme temperatures.
Know the Power of Vitamin D
Getting the proper amount of vitamin D may be especially important for you. People with relapsing-remitting MS who have high levels of vitamin D have a lower risk of flare-ups than those with low levels, notes a study in the Annals of Neurology. "It appears the right amount of vitamin D may positively affect the immune system, offering a protective effect on the occurrence and course of the disease," says the National MS Society of New York City's Nicholas LaRocca, Ph.D. Ask your doctor about the appropriate daily amount of vitamin D for you, and whether to get your levels checked. Low? Discuss supplements and/or adding vitamin D-rich foods to your diet, such as fish, egg yolks and fortified milk.