Multiple Sclerosis is a chronic disease. While it may lay dormant and stable for a period of time, living a healthy lifestyle will make a positive contribution toward how you and your family live with MS. Studies show that a life of family love and support are essential to maintain a positive attitude with a chronic illness. This combined with a healthy diet and proper exercise can contribute greatly toward taking control and living a relatively normal life with MS.
Psychological and spiritual wellness
As I have mentioned in many other columns, studies show that people with good attitudes and great faith live longer than others. This is especially helpful when living with chronic disease. The Cleveland Clinic offers some suggestions how to maintain a positive attitude:
- Get Help -- Do not hesitate to get help from a mental health care provider if you need it. A professional can help you develop goals, techniques and strategies to deal with the stress or depression of chronic disease.
- Support Groups -- Many people benefit from the conversation of others who share similar problems. Much can be learned from the experience and mistakes of others. Some people feel that they can gain satisfactory support from their family, while other immerse themselves in reading and writing poetry or listening to favorite music.
- Counseling -- Some people with MS report a “fear factor” due to the unknown. Also, the dramatic change from being health and active to being the “other guy” is difficult. Psychological or spiritual counseling can be very productive. Return to your spiritual roots or find a new path toward peace.
- Healthy Lifestyle -- eat healthy by consuming a well-balanced diet low in fat and sugar. Also, limit alcohol and caffeine consumption. The Cleveland Clinic recommends drinking eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day.
- Take Control -- Try to control the things that you have control over. Get plenty of rest. When you get run down and stressed out you are more vulnerable to a “flare-up” of symptoms. Modify your home and work environment to suite your physical and psychological needs.
- Exercise & Stay Active -- Just because you have a chronic disease does not mean you have to avoid physical activity. It does mean you must be intelligent about the time, place, intensity, type and frequency of exercise and activity.
Exercise and physical wellness
Many sources, including the Cleveland Clinic suggest that exercise, when performed properly, can have a positive impact on MS symptoms both physically and psychologically. However, because you have a chronic illness, you should consult with you family physician and physical therapist before beginning an exercise program. They will advise you on the proper type and amount of exercise.
Tips for exercise with MS
- Never Overdo It -- With MS, less is more. If you overstress, overwork and become overtired, you will notice a decline in function. Once you find your comfort zone, stay in it.
- No Gain With Pain -- With MS, if you over stretch or over exert you WILL regress. Remember, the messages from your brain are not traveling through your nerves normally. STOP if you feel ill, weak or have pain.
- Warm Up/Cool Down -- This is the safe way to perform any exercise program
- Safe Environment -- Exercise in a safe area. Avoid wet floors, throw rugs, and poor lighting.
- Rail/Ramps -- These simple devices are essential if you have a balance/coordination problem.
- Prosthetic/Orthotics -- If you have foot drop or a weak leg when walking you may need a custom made brace to offer support and prevent injury.
- Variety -- Keep you exercise program fun by having variety. Swim, walk, stretch, lift. Try yoga or tai chi. Use a stepper, recumbent bike or treadmill.
- Avoid Getting Overheated -- MS symptoms can worsen in the heat. Avoid exercise and activity in the direct sun, between 10 am and 2 pm and drink plenty of fluids.
- Aerobic Exercise -- 3 to 4 times per week for 30 minutes but not to fatigue or with pain. (swim, bike, walk)
- Weight Training -- 2-3 times per week using light weights and 10-15 repetitions but not to fatigue or with pain. (use simple 2-3 pound dumbbells)
- Balance/Coordination Exercises -- to complete your fitness program you may benefit from balance and coordination exercises. If you have poor balance these exercises will require assistance.
Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.