Multiple sclerosis (MS) is not a curable condition, but it’s a manageable one. With the right MS treatment and lifestyle habits, people with MS can change or slow the course of the disease, manage symptoms, treat MS relapses, improve function, and care for their emotional and mental well-being.
When you have MS, it’s important to remember that the condition is only a piece of your total health picture. If you don’t have a healthy lifestyle, you are susceptible to conditions that have nothing to do with MS—just like the general population.
So, living a healthy lifestyle not only helps manage your MS, but it’s also key for optimal overall health. Here are five important lifestyle tweaks to help you achieve both of those goals:
1. Eat nutritiously. It may not be surprising that maintaining a well-rounded diet is key for good health, but it’s still one of the most important—especially for people with MS.
While there’s no special diet for MS, eating nutritiously can give you more energy and help with bladder and bowel function. To feel your best, MS specialists recommend a low-fat, vitamin-rich, high-fiber diet, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
These dietary guidelines aren’t unique to people with MS: These are the same recommendations from the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society for the general population. The USDA's MyPlate website can help you guide you towards a healthy eating pattern.
2. Get moving. People who are inactive—whether they have MS or not—are at risk for a number of health conditions. What’s more, lack of physical exercise can also lead to muscle weakness, decreased bone density, and impaired breathing.
Regular physical activity not only helps you look and feel your best, but it also can help you manage MS symptoms. Exercise can help improve your:
Bladder and bowel function
And cognitive function.
What’s more, you don’t have to have a vigorous exercise regimen to reap the benefits. Yoga, tai chi, and water exercises are great for people living with MS. Even activities like household chores and gardening can benefit your health.
Depending on the type of MS you have, you may need to consult your doctor or a physical therapist to find an exercise regimen that’s safe for you.
3. Kick unhealthy habits. Smoking is unhealthy for everyone, but it’s especially impactful for people with MS. Not only can smoking increase a person’s risk of developing MS, but multiple studies show that smoking can speed up MS progression and risk of disability.
People living with MS should also limit alcohol intake. Alcohol affects the central nervous system and drinking too much may exacerbate MS symptoms.
4. Address sleep problems. People with MS are more prone to sleep disorders, such as insomnia and restless leg syndrome. Lack of sleep can ravage every aspect of your health, including brain function. (Seriously, here are the very real ways your body suffers when you skimp on sleep.)
If you’re having trouble sleeping on the regular, see a doc. Until then, here are 11 doctor-approved tips to help you sleep better tonight.
5. Find your zen. Experiencing stress not only impacts your emotional well-being, but it may also make MS symptoms worse. Practicing mindfulness and enjoying relaxing activities—such as yoga, meditation, or breathing exercises—can help reduce stress in your life.
Treatment for MS looks different for everyone, but prioritizing a healthy lifestyle is always a good investment.