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6 Unhealthy Habits to Kick If You Have MS

Managing multiple sclerosis involves more than medication. Lifestyle plays an important role for better or worse depending on the choices you make.

Smoking. Exercising infrequently. Eating junk food. Stressing out. These unhealthy habits aren't good for anyone, especially if you have multiple sclerosis (MS) because they can even make your symptoms worse. If you want to feel better, minimize your symptoms, and try to slow MS progression, you need to work with your doctor on a treatment plan that’s right for you. But you also need to kick unhealthy habits to avoid undermining your treatment. Here’s why.

Smoking. Smoking is a health threat for everyone, but it can be particularly damaging to people with MS, says June Halper, MSN, a certified adult nurse practitioner and CEO of the nonprofit Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers, in Hackensack, New Jersey. Specifically, smoking is associated with more severe disease and faster disability progression, according to a study published in June 2013 in Brain: A Journal of Neurology. The study also found that quitting smoking, even after the onset of MS, can slow the progression of the disease.

Quitting smoking is easier when you have a plan and set goals. Tell everyone you’re quitting and reward yourself when you reach each milestone, such as no cigarettes for 24 hours, 24 days, and eventually 24 months.

Eating an unhealthy diet. It’s even more important to eat healthy when you have a chronic illness like MS, Halper says. Poor nutrition can affect your bowel and bladder function, energy levels, and overall health. An unhealthy diet can also put you at risk for other illnesses, such as heart disease or high blood pressure.

While there's no special diet for MS, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society suggests following one of the high-fiber, low-fat diets recommended by the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society. Also check out the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Choose My Plate” website for ideas on portion control and how to eat smarter.

Not exercising. “Years ago, people with MS were told to rest a lot,” Halper says. “Now we know that’s bad advice.” In fact, the adage 'use it or lose it' directly applies to managing MS. You lose function more rapidly if you rest, Halper says. New evidence shows that exercise can also be beneficial for your brain health. Cognitive impairment is often a symptom of MS, but 20 minutes of treadmill walking, stationary cycling, and guided yoga improved cognition in people with MS, according to a study published in February 2015 in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology.

Choose an activity you enjoy so you’ll be more likely to stick with it. Schedule exercise as you would a meeting, and aim for the time of day when you have the most energy.

Overworking yourself. If you multitask, you risk overdoing it and becoming overtired — and needing long periods of recovery. “One extreme or the other is not a great idea,” Halper says.

Know your body and its limits, which can change as your disease progresses, and pace yourself accordingly. Make a realistic schedule that includes periods of work, quiet time, and fun activities. Do your best to alternate periods of work and rest. Don’t push yourself to complete a task all at once if it’s overwhelming. When doing projects, organizing your materials and workspace can help conserve energy.

Not getting quality sleep. MS can cause irregular sleep, Halper says. And when you don’t sleep well, you can experience pain, fatigue, depression, and problems with physical coordination and thinking.

Sleep is a proven restorative, Halper says. To improve your sleep quality, stay away from caffeine and alcohol, especially near bedtime. Establish a regular sleep routine: Go to bed at about the same time every evening, even on weekends, and wake up at about the same time every morning. Keep your bedroom cool and quiet, and eliminate distractions, such as the television or other electronics.

Ignoring your health. “Often when people have MS, that’s all they want to talk about,” Halper says. But focusing only on your MS isn’t best. Address overall wellness, not just your disease, and catch health issues before they become problems, she says. For starters, go to the dentist for regular checkups, see your gynecologist if you're a woman, and have cancer screenings appropriate for your age and gender.

In general, follow your doctor’s advice as to what other health checkups are necessary and when. Remember that the Affordable Care Act requires health insurance companies to cover preventive services, including blood pressure screening and well-woman visits, so these services shouldn't cost you anything out of pocket.

Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by EVERYDAYHEALTH
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length


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