A few decades ago, people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) were told to simply “take it easy.” Today, an expanding body of evidence suggests that advice couldn’t be further from the truth.
MS impacts the function of the central nervous system. Since the central nervous system controls every function in your body, the condition can cause a variety of symptoms, such as fatigue and balance issues, that can have a detrimental impact on your quality of life.
Despite these symptoms, living your best life is possible with MS. If you or someone you love is dealing the MS and its symptoms, there are some natural ways to improve your quality of life that can work as a complement to traditional MS treatment plans. Here are a few to consider:
Eat a More Nutritious Diet
There’s no magical diet that a person can follow to cure their MS, but they can improve their overall health and keep other chronic diseases at bay with a simple healthy eating plan.
Your diet should include:
- Lean protein
- Whole grains
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Healthy fats
- Plenty of water each day
If MS has affected your sense of taste, try kicking up the flavor of your dishes a notch with herbs and spice, citrus juices, or hot sauce. You may not have been a person who liked spicy foods before your MS diagnosis, but it’s never too late to branch out and see how your evolving taste buds do with much stronger flavors.
Keep Your Body Moving
With MS, exercise helps to improve both fitness and function — and it’s the latter that’s a challenge for many MS patients.
At every stage of MS, movement is crucial. Regular exercise promotes flexibility, but it can also improve your balance and help you deal with other complications of the condition such as cognitive decline, difficulty sleeping, and constipation.
A physical therapist can help you identify strengthening exercises that can target your specific needs. If you have issues regulating your body temperature or with feeling flush as a side effect of certain MS medications, such as Tecfidera, then consider exercising inside in the air conditioning, working out during the cooler parts of the day, or swimming.
Most importantly: don’t overdo it. No one says you have to compete in an Ironman Triathlon. But getting some type of moderate physical activity in most days of the week can only help improve your quality of life. Meaningful exercise doesn’t always mean breaking a sweat: Even minor activities such as playing the piano can help develop your fine motor skills.
Engage Your Brain
Exercising your body is important, but so is flexing your mental muscle!
To do specific tasks, MS patients need to harness more of their brain power than those without the condition. Try a few mentally challenging activities such as word games, memory games, crosswords, and reading. It’s also important to maintain a social life, since interacting with others helps to improve your brain function and can alleviate feelings of isolation and loneliness. This is especially important for those who receive disability and may not work, as they typically have fewer social interactions over the course of the day.
Solve Sleep Issues
Spending some quality time with the Sandman is essential for everyone to function at their best, but it’s vitally important for those with MS since it can make fatigue much worse.
Practice good sleep hygiene by:
- Making your bedroom dark and quiet
- Going to bed and waking around the same time each day
- Keeping your bedroom cool
MS patients also need to address specific issues that can impact their sleep such as muscle spasticity, restless leg syndrome, frequent urination at night, depression, anxiety, and sleep apnea — all of which are common among those with MS. If you’re having difficulty sleeping, then discuss it with your doctor. It may be due to the medications you’re taking or poor sleep habits.
There may also be some other services that can help you with your sleep. A trained psychologist can work with you on a sleep hygiene program. If you need help finding one, a clinical social worker may be able to connect you with this and other services that can help improve your quality of life. They can also help you address other psychosocial aspects of daily life experienced by those with MS.
Dial-Up Vitamin D
Researchers have suspected a link between MS and vitamin D for quite some time, and their suspicions were confirmed in October of 2017. The journal Neurology published a study that found a link between vitamin D deficiency and the risk of developing MS.
But what does that matter for people who already have MS? Studies suggest that higher vitamin D levels can lead to fewer relapses for those already diagnosed with the disease. It may also help to slow the progression.
Talk to your doctor about screening you for vitamin D deficiency and taking a supplement if your levels are low. The results of increasing vitamin D intake vary from person to person, so it’s important to discuss it with your doctor first. Too much vitamin D can lead to issues such as weakness, nausea, and the build-up of calcium in your blood — complications you don’t need to deal with on top of MS symptoms. In fact, any supplements you take should first be discussed with your doctor to ensure they don’t interact with your current medications.
Go Ahead, Take It Easy
Sure, taking it easy was bad advice 20 years ago, but in conjunction with other treatments and strategies to improve your quality of life, there’s some value in it. Adaptive strategies can be used by those with MS find ways to deal with everyday tasks. Pace yourself and seek out tools that can help make things a bit easier, such as using an electric toothbrush or automatic jar opener. You may even need mobility aids to assist you from becoming too fatigued while helping you to stay mobile.
Your quality of life doesn’t have to suffer if you have MS. You simply need to adopt new habits and tweak your lifestyle to help you to be healthier and happier — improvements everyone can benefit from.
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