I have been very active and athletic my whole life, but since my MS diagnosis, sticking with healthy habits has taken on a whole new level of importance. To live my best life with MS, taking care of my mind, body, and spirit is just as important as keeping up with my medical care.
I'm a nurse practitioner specializing in MS, and the role of wellness is always one of the first things my new patients ask me about. People want, and need, to know what they can proactively do to slow their MS down. There is a lot of information out there on what we should be eating, how often we should be exercising, and what supplements we should and should not be taking. It should come as no surprise, but there is no one-size-fits-all approach to wellness with MS -- and I’m not here today to tell you what to do. My goal is to share my experience, and hopefully you will find what works best for you.
When I was diagnosed, I was a rower and competitive weightlifter, but after my first relapse, I was left with foot drop and very little sensation on my right side. Once I was finally feeling better, I was afraid to get back into the gym. I didn’t want to pick up a barbell again, because I knew that I would not be able to lift the kind of weight I used to. I didn’t want to run, because I knew I wouldn’t even be able to complete a mile. The fear of failing at something I was once great at started to invade my mind, and discouraged me before I could even start!
Then I started reading research about how exercise could improve fatigue, muscle weakness, balance, bladder symptoms, and even lower my chances of my MS worsening. I immediately knew I that had to change my mindset and get back to the gym before I let fear get the better of me. I had to invest the time and effort into learning how my new MS body moved, what its limits were, and what it was capable of doing with a little pushing.
I eventually found a fitness routine that works for the new me. I now particularly like the rowing machine and stationary bike because my feet are strapped in and I can have a fan nearby to keep me cool. It may not be a routine that would have impressed me in my younger years, but it’s appropriate for me now, and it keeps me fit and feeling good. I also don’t get too worried if I have to take a few days off, or even a few weeks, because of my MS symptoms. The gym will always be there waiting for me when I’m ready -- all I have to do is overcome my fear of going back.
Diet is another hot topic in the MS community. Right now, we do not have any research suggesting one particular diet is superior, but a lot of people with MS find that diet can impact their symptoms. I always encourage people who want to try a special diet to give it a month. If at the end of the month you feel better, and sticking to the diet does not keep you from enjoying life, then go for it!
Personally, I stick to a heart-healthy Mediterranean diet. We have enough to deal with because of our MS, so my goal is to prevent other chronic illness like diabetes and heart disease. So, I avoid processed food and fast food, but it is not uncommon to catch me with a burger and fries on the weekends. I believe that moderation is key, and as long as I am healthy and feel good, it works for me.
Taking control of my overall wellness has helped in a couple of different ways. It has increased my self-esteem by showing me that my body can still do some pretty impressive things, despite having MS. It has also improved my fatigue, bladder symptoms, spasticity, and pain. For me, taking care of my overall wellness is just as important as my neurological care. I am so much more than my diagnosis, and I am determined to live the best possible life I can, despite MS.