By Nyaka Mwanza
Around 80 percent of people with multiple sclerosis (MS) report experiencing fatigue. Fatigue, or a feeling of being run down, is more than just tiredness or exhaustion, and it’s not caused by sleep deprivation nor addressed by periods of rest. Left unchecked, fatigue can become one of the most debilitating MS symptoms.
The good news is that physical activity may be one of the best remedies for fatigue — so finding ways to make exercise a regular part of your days is crucial, even when MS fatigue tries to stand in your way. To stay active with multiple sclerosis and help keep fatigue at bay, you’ll want to take a look at your diet, weight management, and exercise plan.
The Importance of Physical Activity When You’re Living With Multiple Sclerosis
Getting regular physical activity when you have multiple sclerosis is one of the best tools to support your physical and holistic health. In addition to fighting fatigue, exercise can help combat commonly co-occurring health conditions such as high blood pressure and heart disease. Exercise also has other benefits that are important factors for living well and staying active with MS, including:
- Helping to relieve stress
- Maintaining muscle strength
- Improving balance, coordination, and flexibility
- Easing leg weakness
- Maintaining mobility
It’s important to remember that overexertion can sometimes trigger relapse or worsened symptoms. Because of this, low-intensity exercises and workouts are typically good options for people with MS. These exercises may include:
- Low-impact cardiovascular exercise, such as walking
- Resistance and strength training
- Water aerobics
Talk to your healthcare provider or multiple sclerosis treatment team to understand the right type, amount, and frequency of activity that may work for you as it relates to your MS and symptoms. Your doctor may also suggest that you work with a physical therapist, a specialist who can plan an exercise routine and help guide you safely through it.
While exercising is an important part of managing MS, remember that it shouldn’t feel like a chore. Keep trying until you find something you enjoy doing and that suits your lifestyle. Physical activity doesn’t have to mean logging countless hours at the gym — everyday movements like gardening and vacuuming the house all count.
Food Is Fuel: Setting Yourself Up for Success
Proper nourishment and balanced nutrition is a recommended part of sustained health, especially when you’re living with multiple sclerosis. Skipping meals or consuming inadequate amounts of key nutrients can contribute to low energy levels and exacerbate fatigue. Diet is also important because MS and weight gain in combination can spell bad news. Some MS symptoms such as depression and mobility challenges can lead to weight gain, while certain MS treatments, such as steroids, have weight gain as a side effect. Excessive weight gain is a risk factor for comorbidities such as joint stress, heart issues, and respiratory problems that may all make fatigue worse.
On the other hand, balanced, healthful nutrition rich in certain vitamins and minerals — such as vitamin D, biotin, and vitamin B7 — may help you keep MS in check and give you the energy you need to stay active. While a low-fat, high-fiber diet is generally recommended, you should work with your doctor or healthcare team to design a dietary plan that will support your specific health needs while giving you the nutrition you need to keep your energy levels up.
Nyaka’s bio: Nyaka Mwanza is a freelance writer for MyHealthTeams. She completed a B.A. in Communications: Visual Media from American University and undertook post-baccalaureate studies in Health/Behavioral Communications and Marketing at Johns Hopkins University. Nyaka is a Zambian-born, E.U. citizen who was raised in sub-Saharan Africa and Jacksonville, N.C. However, she has called Washington, D.C., home for most of her life. For much of her career, Nyaka has worked with large global health nonprofits focused on improving health outcomes for women and children. Nyaka believes words hold immense power, and her job is to meet the reader where they are, when they’re there.