Challenges with Diet, Exercise, and MS

When you’ve been diagnosed with a chronic illness like multiple sclerosis, it’s important to start considering some lifestyle changes. Diet and exercise are key components that should go hand in hand with one of the disease modifying therapies that are currently on the market. That is often easier said than done though, as MS seems to conspire to make achieving both difficult undertakings. Many people who live without a disease have a hard time keeping up with both, and when you add in difficulties that come with a chronic illness, it can feel next to impossible.

Diet difficulties

Let’s face it, some of the key symptoms of multiple sclerosis are working against us when it comes to maintaining a decent diet and getting enough exercise. Many of us suffer from cognitive issues that can drastically affect us when it comes to choosing the correct foods. When that isn’t an issue, there are many people with MS that are forced to rely on others for help when it comes to eating. Even if you know what a well-balanced diet should consist of, when you have to rely on others to do grocery shopping or to prepare meals, you don’t always have a say. Even if you can specify what you want to eat, that can be tough to do all the time, simply because you are relying on the charity of others and don’t want to appear to be ungracious.

Exercise challenges

When it comes to getting the necessary exercise and activity, MS can really throw a wrench in the works. The very fact that many people are plagued by mobility problems makes common forms of exercise incredibly difficult, if not impossible. It’s hard to go for a run or take a walk when you have trouble using your legs because they’re weak, numb, or even unresponsive. I’ve tried using an elliptical trainer in an air-conditioned room, but keeping balanced on it and not feeling like I’m about to fall off is pretty challenging.

Keeping things practical

Even if mobility wasn’t an issue, many people with MS are plagued by an increase in symptoms when their temperature goes up, as it tends to do when you exercise. Mobility and temperature are the two biggest culprits that deter people with MS from exercising. They are also two issues that lead many experts to suggest working out in a pool as an alternative. I’ve heard that suggestion so many times in my two decades with the disease, and every time, it makes me wonder, “Does everybody except me have easy access to a pool?” Which brings me to this, there are a lot of “outside the box” ideas that are tossed at people like us, and many of them are great ideas, but they still aren’t the most practical.

My own challenges

When I was diagnosed with MS, I was in the best shape of my life. I played collegiate ice hockey and ran marathons and thrived at both. Over the years, as my symptoms have worsened, as the toll from numerous exacerbations has become more noticeable, and particularly when my body got so bad that I was forced onto disability, I have gotten way worse at both my diet and getting proper exercise. I keep working at it, I really do, but it’s not easy, and I want the others out there that are having difficulties to know that. I may have still been participating in 10ks and marathons during my first decade with the disease, but eventually, things began getting harder and harder. Sometimes, a poor diet and lack of exercise has nothing to to with motivation, nothing to do with effort, it just really does become a much, much harder task. It’s a difficult task we should all keep working at though.

Thanks for reading!


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