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Home > MSAA Publications > The Motivator > The Motivator: Fall 2008 > Stories to Inspire
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Stories to Inspire

It's the little things that Count

By Connie Auran

Photo of Connie exercising

I am a 76-year old woman who has been living with MS for approximately 40 years. I was finally diagnosed at the age of 70, and learning what has been wrong with me all this time has been an eye opener. I have come to realize that it is possible to live easier with this disease, if you just pay attention to the little things. I break them into three groups: exercise, water, and food.

I have a good friend who is a nurse. When I first told her about my diagnosis, she said, "I will tell you what to do in two words:'Keep moving!'" I have found several ways to follow this advice. Waking up early is very important. I first get up at about 6:30 am and take my medicine. I then go back to bed for an hour with a cup of coffee and the morning paper. By 7:30 am, I am feeling much better and I am ready to start my day.

One note of caution: the earlier I wake up in the morning, the earlier I need to go to bed at night. Getting enough sleep is just as important as doing appropriate exercise.

Several days each week I go to water aerobics, and I believe this is the best possible exercise for MS. It is wonderful for stretching your muscles and joints. Not only do you enjoy a good cardio-respiratory workout, but it also increases muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, and aerobic conditioning.

We are told that heat is one of our enemies. I have read that water cools the body approximately four times - or more (depending on the water temperature) - faster than air. In aquatic fitness classes, the water temperature is below normal body temperature. Because the body is surrounded by the cooler water, heat dissipation through radiation is facilitated. In addition, because participants are surrounded by water, most do not experience the negative effects of heat when exercising in the pool.

When I can't get to the pool, I exercise with a video tape. There are many good ones available. I have an old tape by Angela Lansbury, which I use on days when the weather or other circumstances keep me at home. I also have a couple of good tapes demonstrating chair exercises. I just strive to keep moving!

Remember that consistency and repetition are very important. For me, the good effects of an hour's exercise on my body only lasts about 48 hours, and then my body goes back to zero and I need to start over again. I find that it is best to start slowly and increase my time by small increments every day, or every other day. Exercise is a little thing that pays large dividends.

Now my day is off to a good start. I try to make a plan to keep moving during the day. If I do not have a preconceived plan, I tend to spend too much time sitting in front of the computer or at my desk. To avoid sitting too long, I get up whenever the phone rings and walk around the house while I am talking on a cordless phone. This is especially good exercise when talking to a long-winded friend!

Although I work at my computer or desk for part of every day, I also try to get up and do a household chore every 20 minutes. For instance, I might make the bed, put in a load of laundry, or empty the dishwasher. By day's end, I have most of my household chores done as well as having my bills paid! I remember past times when the exercise gurus were telling us that housework could not be considered exercise because it was not using the right muscles. I am happy to report that the gurus have changed their minds and housework is now considered good exercise!

When I go to the mall, I park at a distance and force myself to walk a block or two. I use the stairs in a building instead of the elevator. I look for outside adventures that encourage me to walk for short distances. Even if I walk just a little bit, it helps.

Next, let's look at water. I already mentioned water aerobics, which I personally believe is one of the exercises that truly help me to stay active. The next couple of things you have heard many times before, but now I want you to seriously think about them one more time, in relation to you and MS.

Staying hydrated is very important. Remember that dehydration is one of the causes of fatigue! We often hear that we should drink six to eight glasses of water each day, but you might have trouble doing so unless you have a plan. I try to drink a glass of water with every meal and give one to everyone else who sits at my table. Next, after being outside, I consume a glass of water every time I come into my house. I may be coming in from the yard, shopping, or from visiting neighbors, and it takes some practice, but over time, it can easily become a habit.

Water-based beverages and water-based foods also help. My experience has found that this is very important in hot weather, and I can almost guarantee that you will feel just a little bit better.

"Wash your hands!" Your mother may have said to you constantly. You see a sign with those same instructions in most restaurant bathrooms. I have trained myself to be fairly consistent about hand washing, to keep from getting infections which can slow me down. I even wash my hands just before I empty the dishwasher. How long to wash? Try singing "Happy Birthday" - that's about the length of time it takes to rid your hands of harmful germs. Hand washing is another little thing that can be very important.

Do you have trouble sleeping or perhaps cough during the night? Very dry air can sometimes be a factor. I purchased a humidifier and find that I sleep just a little bit better. Prices range from $19 to $190. I shopped until I found one that is almost silent so it does not keep me awake.

The role of diet and dietary supplements in MS continues to be controversial. I have heard arguments that the evidence is inconclusive and that diet does not play a significant role in MS treatment. As a registered dietitian in my "first life," I do believe that nutrition plays a very important role in maintaining my good health, as it does in all chronic diseases. Good nutrition may also prevent other diseases that can complicate my overall health, which already includes MS. Eating well and exercise helps me make the most of my potential muscle strength and can even help me to build more strength.

I try very hard to control my weight. I know that extra pounds can increase fatigue, limit my mobility, put a strain on my respiratory and circulatory systems, and increase the risk of other chronic diseases. "Temporary" or "fad" diets are not a good idea. I need to remind myself that I have spent a lifetime developing the way I eat and it would be easier for someone to change my religion than it would be to change the way I eat!

I concentrate on simply making some little changes. This includes getting into the habit of emphasizing a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, choosing foods with whole grains, and eating moderate portions. If I could sum it all up in one word, it would be moderation. Portion sizes are one of our biggest problems today. By eating things in moderation, we may be able to enjoy a wider variety of foods.

How about vitamin tablets? We know we need a large variety of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, carotenoids, antioxidants, fatty acids, and many other different agents which will keep our bodies healthy. Some may be found naturally in the foods we eat. You may also find twenty or so of these agents in most multi-vitamins. But everything needed cannot be found in one food or one tablet. The course I follow is to eat as healthy a diet as possible and talk to my doctor about supplements.

I have recently read two very good books on the subject of supplements and non-traditional medicine. They are: Alternative Medicine and Multiple Sclerosis and Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Multiple Sclerosis, both by Allen C. Bowling, MD, PhD. Dr. Bowling is the associate medical director of the Rocky Mountain Multiple Sclerosis Center in Englewood, Colorado. (Please note that both of these books are available through MSAA's Lending Library. For ordering information, please see page 48.)

I found that I did not have to change my entire life because I have multiple sclerosis. Instead I found that by making a variety of little changes, I was pleasantly surprised at how all of these small improvements added up to a better quality of life for me. The new research is very promising and the future holds a lot of hope. I think I will be able to live a long and independent life by paying more attention to small details.

My advice is to put the gusto back into your life and concentrate on life around you. We may not be able to reverse this disease, but I believe with a bit of work we can manage it, and aim toward feeling our best!

Editor's note: MSAA does not endorse or recommend any specific products or therapies. The lifestyle, exercise, and diet routines of this writer refer to her own personal experiences, and should not be taken as medical advice. Readers are advised to consult their physician before making any changes to their medication, diet, exercise, or other regimen.

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Last Updated on Monday, 25 March 2013 11:31