By Laura Wells, told to Rachel Reiff Ellis
When I was diagnosed with MS at 39, I would say I was sporadically focused on my health. I had young children at the time, and my diet and exercise habits were all over the place. Before the kids, I jogged a few times a week, or rode the treadmill or the bike. I would also do bodybuilding. But after the children arrived, I didn’t do much regular physical activity. I focused more on my children’s schedules and needs than my own.
Once the kids got older, I started to devote more time and attention to healthy eating, but my worsening MS symptoms were a real obstacle to moving my body the way I once could. Because of my fatigue and my balance problems, I couldn’t run or even take long walks. So I started trying to figure out what I could do for myself. I decided to turn to yoga – something I was doing years ago.
I started out taking classes twice a week, but even that became difficult for me, as it’s very hard to stay steady. I was constantly afraid of falling and embarrassing myself trying to do a standing warrior pose. And then I discovered individual sessions. My instructor was so good at modifying any poses I needed help with. She showed me how to use a wall or a chair as support. These changes in my yoga practice allowed me to get some daily exercise, which turned out to be an important key to my well-being.
When I challenge my body to do small spurts of intentional movement each day, it keeps me mentally and physically stronger. It’s very easy to go down the rabbit hole thinking about all the things you can’t do when you have MS. So if I can do just 15-20 minutes of yoga a day, it can go a long way.
I am also fortunate to live in an area where I have access to a physiotherapist who specializes in MS. She was amazing at showing me exercises that can strengthen weak parts of my legs and help me work on my stability.
When it comes to healthy eating habits, my philosophy has always been to eat everything in moderation. I know a lot of people who have tried special diets, but I just try to fill my plate with lots of fruits and vegetables and whole grains, and eat less packaged and processed foods. My downfall is my sweet tooth, which I’ve always had. And sugar causes inflammation, which can make MS symptoms worse. But being aware of how food makes me feel helps a lot. I know I feel better when I eat a salad for lunch instead of something high in carbs. So I try not to overdo it in an unhealthy category.
It’s funny, because if MS damaged my physical balance, it forced me to find a balance in my everyday life. I’ve always been someone who feels guilty if I don’t do or help, or aren’t productive. But it became clear that it’s not just good to relax, it’s necessary. Fatigue is one of the main symptoms of MS, and being more mindful of my activity level is one of the ways I keep my stress down and help manage this symptom.
It’s no longer an option for me to stay up too late at night or to fill my schedule so full that I have no downtime. If I don’t take the time to sit down and read or listen to music, take a relaxing walk or take a nap, I won’t be able to function. My brain will just hit a wall. I call it “pea soup brain”. Now I’m really good at going to bed at the same time every night and taking a nap every day. Not a long nap – just long enough for my body to finish the rest of the day strong. I learned that you have to take care of yourself before taking care of someone else.
I have also found it important to celebrate small successes. The more I can embrace who I am and what I am capable of achieving, the better my mental outlook. If I am able to do one more set of leg strengthening exercises today than yesterday, that is cause for celebration. It may not look like much to someone else. But for me, it’s an accomplishment.
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How to Manage MS by Exercising and Eating Well – Up News Info
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