Keeping healthy

MS is a life-long neurological illness that can be variable and create uncertainty in the day-to-day lives of those who have the disease. It is important to have positive outlook on living a healthy life in order to make the most of physical, emotional, social and spiritual aspects of health. Although there is no cure for MS, there is hope that people can find their own way to live with the disease and to try to live in a healthy way.

Deciding to adhere to a healthy lifestyle or to maintain healthy habits is a choice for each person. This concept of choice is especially relevant for people with MS who often feel they have little control over the disease. Diet, exercise, stress management, travel, leisure activities and health-promotion activities are all aspects of living well that are, to a certain extent, under the control of the individual.

Although there are no particular diets that have been shown to affect the disease process in MS, food fuels the body and provides energy. A well-balanced diet, low in fat and high in fibre, can help stabilise weight and improve bowel health. Adding dietary supplements such as multi-vitamins with minerals, calcium, and vitamin D should not replace proper food intake, but can be useful. People with MS should be encouraged to check with their doctor or nurse before taking vitamins, minerals or herbal supplements to ensure safety and compatibility with the traditional medications already prescribed.

Regular exercise is important for several reasons: it improves cardiovascular health, helps improve strength and endurance, and is a factor in stabilising mood. Exercise can help relieve MS-related fatigue and manage spasticity. Aquatics therapy (also known as hydrotherapy) can be very helpful in MS because it provides an aerobic workout while keeping the body temperature down. Other helpful exercise regimens include stretching, and low impact aerobic workouts, combined with strength training using light weights. People with MS should discuss exercising with their doctor or nurse, and may need a consultation with a physiotherapist before starting an exercise programme.

Coping with stress can be difficult. Stress makes most people feel bad, but those with MS may actually experience the consequences of stress in ways that make their symptoms feel worse. Stress may raise body temperature. People with MS tend to feel more fatigued, or have temporary worsening of MS-related symptoms, when their body temperature is elevated. Relieving stress can be as easy as taking a few deep breaths, visualising a pleasant memory, undertaking relaxation techniques or enjoying a favourite pastime or hobby.

Some people with MS take very good care of the MS, but forget about the other parts of the body that require attention. Regular examinations by a primary care doctor may include a cardiogram, and monitoring of blood glucose, triglycerides, and cholesterol levels. Women should have regular cervical smear tests, breast examinations and bone density studies.

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