In the February/March 2017 issue, we profile Jamie-Lynn Sigler who kept her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS) a secret for 15 years. She decided to go public in part because she didn't want her 3-year-old son, Beau, to have to keep her disease a secret. Today, she is an active member of the MS community and blogs about life with a chronic neurologic disease. In this online exclusive, we share tips for how to stay healthy and reduce the risk of complications from MS.
BY LINDA CHILDERS
There is no cure yet for multiple sclerosis (MS), but medication combined with a healthy lifestyle can help people stay fit, prevent complications, and maximize function, says Barbara S. Giesser, MD, FAAN, clinical director of the MS program at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and co-author of Navigating Life with Multiple Sclerosis, a book in the American Academy of Neurology's Neurology Now Books series.
1. Move more. A combination of cardiovascular exercise, stretching, and strength training can ease symptoms of fatigue, stiffness, and depression, says Dr. Giesser, who recommends exercising 20 to 30 minutes, three to four days a week. Walking, either outside or on a treadmill, and swimming are both great exercises. "In the water, where gravity is eliminated, people with limited mobility often can do things they couldn't do on land. They also won't get overheated, which may temporarily worsen some symptoms," she says. "Riding a stationary bicycle or using an elliptical trainer is also a good way to exercise. Everyday physical activities such as walking the dog or housework are also beneficial."
If fatigue is a problem, Dr. Giesser suggests breaking exercise into 10-minute increments throughout the day to build up endurance. She also recommends yoga, which she says has been shown to improve mood and flexibility and reduce fatigue. The National MS Society offers adapted yoga classes across the country. To learn more go to bit.ly/NMSS-Yoga.
2. Mind your diet. No specific diet has been proven to help MS patients, but a well-rounded plan such as the Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts, and less red meat and fewer saturated fats and refined grains, has been associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline, heart disease, and diabetes, says John Corboy, MD, FAAN, professor of neurology at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine and co-director of the Rocky Mountain Multiple Sclerosis Center at Anschutz Medical Campus.
3. Get healthy. "Losing weight and quitting smoking can help MS patients improve their quality of life and possibly even slow the progression of the disease," says Dr. Corboy. Adequate sleep—at least seven hours a night—is also important, says Patricia K. Coyle, MD, FAAN, professor and acting chair of neurology and director of the Multiple Sclerosis Comprehensive Care Center at the Stony Brook University Medical Center in Stony Brook, NY.
4. Up your vitamin D. The optimal source for vitamin D is sunlight—10 to 20 minutes a day between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.—but many people don't get enough. Dr. Corboy suggests getting vitamin D levels tested regularly and talking to your neurologist about what he or she considers to be an optimal level and whether or not you need supplementation.
5. Stay mentally active. Brain health is as important as physical health, says Dr. Coyle, who recommends staying socially engaged and intellectually stimulated through play and learning and studying.