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Guest blog: 9 anti-inflammatory foods

Posted on: August 20 2019

Photo of Sharon PeckMultiple sclerosis is an inflammatory condition. Here MSer and Nutrition Scientist Sharon Peck highlights just some foods that could help reduce inflammation...  

Inflammation is essential to our survival. It’s our first line of defence against the outside world. It attracts cells of the immune system to the site of danger to destroy pathogens and helps heal injury. As a short-lived response it performs excellently as protector and healer. 

In multiple sclerosis (MS) inflammation is ongoing (chronic), with the myelin covering being attached by neurons wrongly identified as pathogens. The immune system attacks pathogens with oxidation. The oxidative damage causes further inflammation.

An unhealthy gut microbiome can be a source of inflammation. Boston researchers found MSer’s microbiome linked to ongoing inflammation. Luckily the microbiome is easily changed with food choices that nourish the microbiome.

Foods described below can have anti-inflammatory effects, either directly helping to resolve inflammation/oxidative stress, or indirectly by feeding our microbiome so anti-inflammatory microbes crowd out pro-inflammatory ones. 

Champion foods (both direct and indirect effect)

1. Vegetables

Particularly rich dark, leafy greens contain polyphenols and antioxidants, which can directly reduce inflammation. Vegetable’s high fibre content feeds the microbiome. A small Italian trial found a high vegetable diet reduced inflammation, improved gut microbiome and helping to improve overall health.

2. Fruits

Especially deeply coloured berries, which are potent antioxidants that can reduce inflammation. They also provide food for the microbiome, helping to keep your gut healthy. Try and make sure you are getting your 5-a-day, and aim for 10 if you can, after the NHS recently reported that 10 portions of fruit and vegetables is even better for us.

Direct anti-inflammatory/antioxidant

3. Oily fish 

Mackerel, salmon and sardines are all sources of essential fatty acids (EFAs) omega-3s, which UK researcher found increased anti-inflammatory bacteria in the microbiome and may help directly resolve inflammation.

4. Nuts

These are a source of required omega-6 EFA, which can be inflammatory in excess. Walnuts have a balance of omega-6 and omega-3, and research has shown they promote anti-inflammatory microbes. Research found that walnut oil reduced inflammation in a mouse model of MS.

5. Seeds

Another great source of EFAs. Some seeds, such as flax and chia seeds have a high anti-inflammatory omega-3 content.

6. Extra-virgin olive oil 

Extra-virgin olive oil is a source of antioxidant vitamin E and anti-inflammatory polyphenols. A review of multiple trials indicated that this oil could improve inflammatory disease symptoms. 

7. Ginger

Ginger has well known anti-inflammatory properties. An Iranian researcher indicated it may reduce inflammation in mice with experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE).

8. Turmeric

It’s been in the news a lot recently and is now well known for its anti-inflammatory properties, but it has poor absorption. Consume it with healthy fats and black pepper to improve the absorption.

Indirect effect via the microbiota

9. Legumes and wholegrains

Another good source of fibre which has been found to benefit gut microbiota.

Out of the above list seven constitute the Mediterranean diet. Interestingly, the Mediterranean diet is very similar to the high vegetable diet used in the Italian study mentioned in point one. It showed an anti-inflammatory effect in MSers and reduced disability. The anti-inflammatory Mediterranean diet is being looked at by a variety of experts and particularly for people with MS. 

About Sharon

Sharon was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2007 and prompted a career change to nutrition with the goal of empowering people to take positive steps toward feeling better. Sharon aims to share her nutritional knowledge, the latest nutritional and lifestyle research and expertise from healthcare professionals. Visit Sharon’s website for more information about her and her latest articles.

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Guest blog: 'It’s all for a great cause...'

Posted on: August 02 2019

Photo of David with his Dad
Dad and me

In this guest blog, David lets us know why he and his partner Anne-Marie are taking on the challenge of the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey 100 this weekend, and the incredible journey they have been on to get to this point...

I made a promise to my dad twenty years ago that one day I would do a charity event and raise money for multiple sclerosis (MS). My dad is 83 and had relapsing-remitting MS for 40 years and I have seen first-hand how this disease not only affects the person but also the family. 

So, after twenty years of procrastinating, my partner Anne-Marie and I decided to finally hold true to my word. I was already in the RideLondon-100 so we looked at MS charities for Anne-Marie. Thankfully we spoke to Jenny at MS-UK who was enthusiastic and welcoming and that sealed our decision.

I know a lot of people use charity places as a way of getting into an event they wanted to do anyway but if there was one bit of advice I could ever give someone, it would be to pick a charity that means something to you.

For all those rainy days you don’t feel like training, for all the times your bum hurts (even with a litre of chamois cream slapped over it), for all those times you are halfway up a steep hill wondering why you aren’t slouched on the couch chowing down on popcorn, knowing why you are putting yourself through this makes such a difference to your resolve and dedication.

Training went well until one sunny May afternoon, I had a collision with a car whilst out cycling. The end result was a road closure, ambulance, two police cars, a suspected broken leg, injured back and hand, stitches in the chin and my bike was written off.

Subsequent x-rays and MRIs to my hand and leg miraculously showed nothing broken. By sheer chance, the angle of my knee prevented a far more serious long term knee injury occurring so I feel incredibly lucky.

Nevertheless, I was told I would be on crutches for up to 10 weeks and that all cycle events would be out until September. 

This was devasting for both myself and Anne-Marie.

To put this into perspective, Anne-Marie is not a confident cyclist. She has never ridden on her own so the thought of her cycling 100 miles solo scared her to death. 

She continued to train on an indoor bike in the gym but only for an hour at a time which wouldn’t be enough to get her in shape for a 100 mile ride outside.

She also suffered far more than me after my accident. My damage was physical but Anne-Marie’s was mental. From a lack of sleep due to nightmares leaving her exhausted, from having to be my carer for five weeks leaving little time for the bike, to seeing her partner in almost constant pain, her confidence plummeted.

But this is where choosing a charity that means something to you is so important. Despite all her fears, she knew she wouldn’t pull out. It was too important a promise to go back on.

Anne-Marie after the Tour of Cambridge (first solo ride).jpg
Anne-Marie after the Tour of Cambridge (first solo ride)

After a few weeks of mental turmoil, she made a last-minute decision to try the Tour of Cambridge on her own. A massive feat for her and one I am so proud of her for.

In the meantime, I had been rehabbing for up to two hours a day. I developed a huge admiration for people like my dad who, because of their MS, have to ‘rehab’ every day just to keep mobile and functioning. 

I remember the first day I managed to do a full revolution of a pedal stroke in the gym. It took me 10 minutes to get my leg over the top of the pedal stroke and it felt amazing. Within a week I managed five minutes on an indoor bike. A week later I double that time to 10 minutes and a week later I tried 20 minutes. Each time I felt exhausted and despite the Physio telling me there was no way I would get to the start line of the RideLondon, the prospect of being there with all the other MS-UK riders really made me want to give it a shot.

Despite everyone telling me not to overdo it, I cautiously overdid it and increased my longest ride from 20 miles to 25 to 35 to 53 to 70 miles on subsequent sessions with Anne-Marie always by my side.

At the end of each ride, I felt exhausted and would fall asleep in a sweaty mess.

So here we are today. My max longest ride will have been 70 miles. I don’t feel ready for the event, my hand still hurts but I’ll give it a jolly good bash. I can honestly say if it wasn’t for the importance of the charity, I wouldn’t have tried anyway near as hard on the rehab. Anne-Marie would have certainly dropped out of the event too but she feels a connection to the charity through me and my family. 

Both of us on our first sportive ride since the accident.jpg
Both of us on our first sportive ride since the accident

Seeing the effort families put in to helping their loved ones, seeing the effort those suffering from MS put into daily life means that you can’t help but feel motivated and inspired to put that little bit more into your own daily life.

For those who are reading this who are doing the event, I look forward to seeing you on the start line. I also look forward to seeing you (hopefully) at the finish line.

It’s all for a great cause and the journey has been unexpectedly up and down but also an amazing growing experience for both of us.

Good luck everyone and go #TeamPurple!

David Bint and Anne–Marie Cannon

Visit Anne-Marie's fundraising page

Self-esteem and MS - Part 3

Posted on: August 01 2019

Louise Willis (Headshot).jpgIn the final part of our self-esteem trilogy, MS-UK Counsellor Louise Willis offers some more empowering tips for good mental health...

Try mindfulness

Mindfulness is a bit of a buzzword and that is for good reason. With practice, mindfulness can change the way our brains work and instill a sense of calm. Far from its roots in traditional Buddhist practice, mindfulness of today is about taking your focus out from the past which we can’t change and the future which is yet to happen and putting it firmly in the present. This can be done in a number of ways from focusing on the body to the external senses.

Forgive others and ourselves

Holding on to grudges and past hurts has been likened to ‘putting your hand into a fire but expecting it to burn the other person’. It might feel like the right thing to do, but what does it really accomplish? Forgiveness is surprisingly seldom about the other person but about the feelings and beliefs that we carry with us from the precipitating event. Forgiveness is a private decision and it is not necessary to tell the other person that we have forgiven them. Of course, forgiveness of the self is just as important, as feelings of shame can be overwhelming, we are human after all and everyone makes mistakes.

Use positive affirmations

It’s easy to fall into a rut of negative talk, but by changing the wording it can have a transformative effect on how we feel about ourselves. Remember that coach from school or any other supportive and encouraging role model you have had the joy of spending time with? Be your own cheerleader – ‘you can do it, you are worthy and you are loveable’.

Set small goals and complete them

By setting ourselves small achievable goals throughout the week we can begin to see that we can do the things we set our minds to. Whether it is finishing that book, learning to crochet, phoning an old friend or putting time aside for self-care, it shows ourselves and others that we care for and value ourselves.

Keep a gratefulness journal

Log three things you are grateful for every other day, they don’t have to be big things. A smile from the lady in the newsagents, a bird on the windowsill or simply an hour of your favourite TV show. By feeling and acknowledging the small moments in our life that we often take for granted, we can start to build a more accurate model of what our life is really like rather than focusing on the negative parts.

Want to find out more about MS-UK Counselling?

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Missed the last two blogs? Read them today...

Read self-esteem and MS part 1

Read self-esteem and MS part 2

Keeping cool in the hot weather

Posted on: July 23 2019

This week the UK is set to see soaring temperatures, with most places reaching temperatures between 34-35 degrees according to The Met Office. They have also reported that the South East of England could see it rise to an immense 37 degrees. Whilst some may bask in the fact that we’d normally have to pay to experience such hot weather outside of the UK, others may have feelings on the opposite end of the spectrum. People who are affected by multiple sclerosis (MS) have widely differing symptoms when it comes to heat sensitivity, which is why we are going to give you some top tips on how to keep cool in this weather…

1 ) Wear weather appropriate clothes

Whilst wearing shorts or loose clothing are apparent ways of keeping cool, changing your choice of footwear is a good way to go too. Wearing trainers or closed-off shoes can affect your whole body in hot weather, as there are lots of pulse points around your feet and ankles. Switching to some appropriate sandals can help your feet breathe, or alternatively, dunking your feet in some cool water when you take off your shoes to cool off!

2) Chilling your sheets before bed

Despite being a short-term solution, chilling your sheets in a sealed bag in the fridge for a couple of hours before you go to sleep can help you feel cooler. Although your own body heat will heat up the sheets fairly quickly, it can help your body cool in that period, which in turn could help you drift off to sleep easier.

3) While you’re out of the house, close your curtains

When you leave your curtains open, it allows sunlight to come through and essentially heat the area like a greenhouse. When closed, the curtains will prevent this greenhouse effect beyond your window sill and keep your house much cooler.

4) Unplug electrical plugs that aren’t in use

Plug sockets that are filled with electronics that you aren’t using will generate more heat. If the plugs become too hot, especially in a heatwave, it increases the chance of a fire hazard as well. So it may be a good idea to lose the unnecessary electricals at this time of year!

5) Invest in Kool-Ties or Cooling Vests

Kool-Ties are simply something you tie around your neck, can work for up to three days, and cool the whole body through cooling your neck. Cooling Vests have special cooling crystals incorporated into the material which are soaked in cold water, then can hold the temperature for a substantial period of time.

Other ways to help keep cool in this hot weather can be taking regular cold drinks and wrapping a cold damp towel around your neck.

Want to talk to someone?

Our helpline team are here to listen if you want to talk about any multiple sclerosis symptoms, just use our live web chat service or call us on 0800 783 0518. You can also email us

Fundraiser of the Month: Nicky Climbing the O2 with her daughter Sam...

Posted on: July 23 2019

Each month we bring you a story all about an inspiring fundraiser who makes our work possible, so we can support people affected by multiple sclerosis (MS) to live happier and healthier lives. This month our fundraiser of the month is Nicky Sawyer, who climbed over the O2 in London with her daughter, Sam, to raise money for MS-UK. Amazingly, they managed to raise just over £300 in as little as two weeks! To find out more about Nicky and Sam’s inspiring story, read on…

Nicky and her daughter Sam before they climbed the O2
Nicky (left) and Sam (right) before they climbed the O2

Hi, my name is Nicky Sawyer I am 53 years old. I became aware of multiple sclerosis (MS) when I was a carer in my community as several of my service-users had MS. Each service user was completely different and they all had different stages of MS.

In 2013, my daughter Sam was diagnosed with MS and she had been having symptoms since 2011, obviously we were all devastated! Sam had her son in 2012 and although has her difficult days, she does everything for him.

Nicky and her daughter Sam at the top of the O2
Nicky and Sam at the top of the O2!

Four years ago when ‘brave the shave’ was starting to really take off for women, I decided to take the plunge and shave my head, and I raised £2,500 for the MS Society!

I’ve said on many occasions that it was time I did something to raise money for MS again, and even suggested Sam and I did a skydive, but Sam wasn’t so keen on this idea! Instead, Sam asked if I fancied doing the walk over the O2. ‘Why not?’ Was my reply, but let’s raise some money! And this time we chose to raise money for MS-UK.

So with only two and a half weeks to go, I asked my friends and the customers at work to help me raise some money. Soon enough the total started to mount up! I had been sponsored for £285.50 by the time we did the walk. However whilst doing it we were approached by a lovely lady and said she would like to donate to MS-UK, she gave me £10! So I donated £5 myself to round up the figure.

Sam still doesn’t want to do the sky-dive, but I will be next year with my son, so watch this space!

I would like to thank Lucy from MS-UK for all her support and I look forward to working with her on my skydive challenge next year, and to everyone that supported me and Sam on this journey!

Nicky

Do something different!

If you want to do something different like Nicky and Sam did, email Lucy at MS-UK or give us a call on 01206 226500 to get some information and support along your journey!

Share your voice during Loneliness Awareness Week...

Posted on: June 18 2019

Helpline Team 2019.JPG

This week, 17-21 June 2019, is Loneliness Awareness Week. Introduced by The Marmalade Trust three years ago, the theme aims to remove the stigma around loneliness and combat people feeling this way. In order to do this, we need to encourage people to talk about it more.

Research has found loneliness to be an unpleasant, deeply personal experience and emotionally distressing. Loneliness can be for a longer duration perhaps when a change has occurred, or chronic if it is for more than two years. However, it doesn’t necessarily need to be for an extended period of time, it can be brief or occasional. A 2017 report even found that loneliness was as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Specific research into loneliness and MS has been conducted by the MS Society, which shows that out of 869 respondents, 60% said they felt lonely due to being affected by multiple sclerosis (MS). Unfortunately, this figure is up from an average of 50% of people that are affected by any disability generally. So what can we do to combat this, and how do we strive towards pushing this statistic down?

The MS Society found that 78% of people affected by MS see ‘meeting other people affected by MS’ as the most significant aspect of their local group in reducing feelings of loneliness. Such research suggests that strong local community groups are important to people with MS, so we need to continuously build on this.

Alongside the unique information that The Marmalade Trust produce, they have also assembled an interactive map so everyone can see where community events are happening nationally. This can be a great way to meet new people. To see what events are near you, visit marmaladetrust.org/law/#Interactivemap.

Understandably, not everyone will have events listed in their area. This is where we can help. Our helpline team here at MS-UK are available to talk to you, even if it’s just a chat. We would like to remove the stigma around loneliness, and it’s okay to say ‘I’ve been lonely’. We believe that nobody should face MS alone and our helpline staff are here to support you no matter what the issue is.

In 2018, our helpline supported over a thousand people and you can reach out to us knowing you will receive unbiased and professional support. The MS-UK Helpline is open from 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday. We are available to you on the telephone or online through our live web chat or email – we will support you in a way that’s right for you.

The Marmalade Trust has created a basic guide about what you can do in relation to loneliness, or what you can do for someone who you think is experiencing it. You can find this guide online at marmaladetrust.org/what-we-do/marmalades-3-step-process-to-feeling-less-lonely/.

Want to help us make a difference?

When we looking at our new strategy, we were told that there was simply not enough support available to the MS community to overcome isolation and loneliness. We are now running a survey to find out more about these issues.

You can share your own thoughts today in our online survey at www.surveymonkey.com/r/MSUKLoneliness.

MS and guilt

Posted on: May 15 2019

Annabel Nicklin.jpgMS-UK counsellor Annabel Nicklin discusses how MS can cause feelings of guilt

This week, 13-19 May, is Mental Health Awareness week. People affected by MS can often experience associating effects on their mental health too. Sometimes it can be difficult to understand what somebody means when they talk about mental health issues, and this is why Mental Health Awareness week exists. They aim to make discussions of mental health clearer and a foundation stronger support networks. By supporting Mental Health Awareness week, we can pave the way for greater openness when it comes to mental health, and strive to help those that are further affected by other conditions too.

We can all experience guilt, like any other emotion within our daily lives. Some people experience it occasionally, whilst others may experience it more frequently. Guilt can be a difficult emotion to identify and can often be disguised by feelings of anger or resentment. The feeling can often rear its head when we identify and perceive we have caused ourselves or somebody else a wrongdoing or harm. Guilt can leave us feeling pretty rubbish!

People living with a long-term health condition can experience the grieving process, which is not linked to the death of a loved one. Guilt can be a part of the grieving process where the person is seeking to try and find the answers to their questions of why something is happening to them and the impact that has on others.

People living with MS may experience this feeling for a number of reasons, some of which are discussed below

  • Letting their family, friends and colleagues down by being diagnosed with MS
  • Their MS has put additional burdens on their family life; for example through a change of lifestyle or reduced household income
  • Needing to reduce work hours, socialising, attendance at special occasions and hobbies
  • A need to now rely on others in a way they didn’t before
  • Feel personally responsible for developing MS because they didn’t exercise enough, eat healthily enough or go to their GP early enough. Or wish they had fought harder to be heard by health professionals
  • Being punished for something they feel they did wrong towards somebody else
  • Family members may also experience guilt as they may not feel they’re ‘caring enough’ or that they don’t have enough patience or compassion towards the person living with MS. Or they may blame the person for the challenges presented which can provoke guilt in the person living with MS

Most people will experience feelings of guilt at some point in their life. However, if you notice that you are constantly apologising to yourself or others this could be a telling sign that you may be experiencing feelings of guilt. Communication is key to challenging these feelings. Communicating with somebody you trust such as a family member, friend, colleague or health professional can help you to start alleviating these feelings.

If we do not recognise and process feelings of guilt this can potentially affect our mental health and wellbeing. Sometimes people may want to talk with an experienced mental health professional about their feelings of guilt in a safe, supportive and non-judgemental setting. This could be through:

Counselling or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

This can provide space for the person to explore and examine their thoughts and feelings. Counselling can help the person identify new ways of thinking and behaving which can improve the way they feel. 

Relationship or family therapy

The whole family may want to access counselling. This may help family members understand when it might be MS that they perceive to be the ‘problem’ or ‘worry’ and when it is something else.

Mindfulness and meditation

Can help the person to be aware of the present moment where they can calmly recognise and accept their thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations without judgement. This can be a very powerful tool in helping to alleviate feelings of guilt.

You may have read this article and relate to some of what was shared. Others may be thinking that it isn’t relevant at all. As individuals we respond differently to feelings of guilt but what is important to remember is that one of the best ways to cope with feelings of guilt is to try and be as compassionate towards yourself as you would be to somebody else.

This extract was taken from issue 113 of New Pathways magazine, the MS magazine for people with MS, by people with MS.

Sub button for news stories - NP.jpg

Guest blog: 'If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again!'

Posted on: April 27 2019

Photo of SarahIn this final guest blog of MS Awareness Week, Sarah tells us all about overcoming her fears and discovering she could still exercise following a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis...

'Before I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), I was very keen on sport and was always very active participating in sports teams, such as when I joined Colchester Ladies Hockey Club and later on, a Colchester badminton team. I also started playing golf in my mid-thirties and was a very active gardener as I got older.

'However, pre-diagnosis, I had an unexplained ‘attack’ which left me very fatigued with a tendency to quickly hit a ‘fatigue wall’ during any physical exercise, even just walking to the shop. This meant that my very active lifestyle came to something of an abrupt end, even though my mind still thought of myself as fit and active. Suddenly, I just couldn’t do the things that I used to do. Despite my mind telling my legs to run, jump or whatever, my muscles just weren’t able to comply. The messages from my brain just weren’t getting through. It was a very scary time and I began to get scared of trying to carry on doing any physical activity.

'I remember one time when I was still just able to trot a bit and I was walking across a field to our campervan, and it began to rain. I started to ‘run’ towards the van for shelter and took a big tumble which twisted my ankle, wrenched my back and gave me big bruises and muddy clothes. Luckily, I’d fallen on grass but as I’d not fallen over since I was a toddler according to my Mum, it gave me a big shock! This episode really dented my confidence and my physical activity reduced considerably after that.

'Once I received my MS diagnosis, I was overwhelmed by so many fears, worries and confusion. I found it difficult to take in and understand all the advice and information I was given. I didn’t ask about physical exercise or about many other things related to MS because I didn’t know enough to know what to ask, my mind was in a spin. All I remember was being told that ‘overdoing it’ could bring on a relapse, and to rest and pace myself or I would ‘pay for it’. This made me very worried about doing any physical exercise in case it brought on a relapse.

'After my diagnosis, I now exercise twice a week at MS-UK’s wellness centre Josephs Court on a Therabike and on the Vibeplate. I joined Josephs Court two years ago and have been aiming to strengthen my arm and leg muscles to help compensate for my severe fatigue and to reduce the risk of falls. I’m really pleased with my progress and I’m now able to do a lot more than I was able to do before I hit my ‘fatigue wall’. I’ve also learned how to pace myself better through the excellent coaching at Josephs Court and the MS-UK Mindfulness training.

'I now appreciate doing the exercise as it enables me to garden regularly, as long as I’m strict with my pacing! Now I have four grandchildren under the age of four and another on the way, and I have begun to feel that I would be missing out on enjoying family time together, but my increasing fitness and activity has meant that while I still find it very tiring to play with the three year olds, alongside looking after the one year old twins, I’ve been able to find ways to cope with them all and enjoy them without exhausting myself.

'I also have advice to those who are affected by MS and are nervous about exercising. I would say that I feel that good information is the key to living positively with MS. When I was first diagnosed 13 years ago, I didn’t ask questions. I was in denial for about 10 years before I finally plucked up the courage to go to Josephs Court. By then my fitness and strength had deteriorated massively impacting negatively on my general health and wellbeing, so I wish I had been able to ask the questions I needed to earlier in my diagnosis. I have found in the last two years that mental and physical wellbeing, with keeping yourself as fit and healthy as possible, are so important if you’re living with MS, or a similar chronic condition. When I started exercising at Josephs Court, I hit my fatigue wall almost immediately but with the help and encouragement of my Wellness Coach, Jay, I was able to slowly improve.

'Another benefit that I found with exercising is the social part of it. I loved meeting other clients, something I was very nervous about to start with. But chatting with other clients, comparing notes and encouraging others has been a lovely but unexpected bonus, and has really helped me look much more positively on myself with MS. Also, joining the social group and attending social events such as the regular coffee mornings, has been a very enjoyable revelation for me, and helps me to think so much more positively about MS.

'Finally, I find the exercising therapeutic, I feel really well after an exercise session – I am more relaxed and subsequently sleep better; and by the next morning my back and leg pain and spasticity are very much reduced. It improves my strength and stamina and increases my sense of wellbeing. Now, I can also enjoy time with my family and friends without constantly feeling exhausted. “I don’t feel ‘ill’ anymore!"'

Find out more about exercise in our Choices booklet (PDF document)

Find out more about MS Awareness Week

 

Guest blog: 'I'm pretty convinced that if I didn't exercise I would have lost lots more function'

Posted on: April 26 2019

Photo of PhilIn this guest blog Phil, a MS-UK Trustee, tells us about exercising before and after a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis as part of MS Awareness Week...

'I was diagnosed with MS in the summer of 2007 and I quickly tried to find out more about it and what I could do. Of the various organisations offering advice, it was MS-UK (or MSRC as it was at the time) that I found most helpful and supportive. The pragmatic and un-blinkered information, the positive attitude of taking control of your own situation helped me through those first difficult few months, and that idea of taking control of your own health is still very much with me.

'Fortunately I then got the chance to join the Board of Trustees at MS-UK and it gave me a chance to use the skills I had developed in my management consulting career for an organisation that really was making a difference to people’s lives.

'Before I was diagnosed I was very physically active, despite a demanding job that took me to many places around the world. The mountains and mountaineering was my real passion, and as well as rock and ice climbing I ran and cycled. Ironically it was a friend seeing me stagger back from a day’s rock climbing that made me go to the doctor and started the process that led to my diagnosis.

'I have primary progressive MS and immediately after diagnosis my physical symptoms were pretty minor. But as my mobility worsened I couldn’t climb anymore, I kept falling over when running because of my foot drop, and tunnel vision when tired made road cycling too dangerous. Climbing was a big part of my life and not being able to do this felt like a huge loss to me. 

'So now 12 years after diagnosis with PPMS I do what I can when it comes to exercise and it’s still a big part of my life. I can’t run at all or walk far, so I have a rowing machine for cardiovascular exercise. I used to have a rowing club nearby that offered assisted rowing which was wonderful. I have a home gym where I can do resistance and strength work and have joined The MS Gym.

'I have seen the benefits of exercising personally and am certain it has allowed me to recover some lost ability. For a while my foot drop was pretty bad - all my right shoes had the familiar tell-tale scuff marks around the toe. But amazingly I found that by working on my right foot and leg I managed to nearly get rid of the foot drop – so now it’s only when I’m really tired that I have a problem. This helped convince me that although I might not be able to recover all the function I’ve lost, I may be able recover some function and must do what I can to maximise what I have. 

'I also have some advice to people affected by MS who are nervous about exercising. Exercise will not make your MS worse. Even if you feel exhausted or can’t even move immediately after exercising, you will recover. And it is fine to exercise to ‘failure’ and push your limits – just make sure you’re safe, be aware of form, and have time to recover. There are lots of stories from those with MS that have some functional recovery by exercising, including at basic levels of movement. Also brain loss as we age is much faster in those with MS and exercise slows this loss. However, it can be hard, especially with the fatigue and mobility issues. There is lots of help out there to start you on your exercising journey. Neuro physiotherapists can be incredibly helpful and your MS nurse or consultant might be able to refer you. Many gyms offer advice and training programmes, and there are assisted activities all over the UK. MS-UK and the MS Trust have general advice and more details on exercise programs.

'I also found that exercising with MS requires a huge amount of concentration and can be very tiring. It’s not just a case of “use it or lose it” because form is really important. When I exercise I’m also trying to create new neural pathways to overcome functional loss, so learning and practicing the right way to move is vital.

'Finally, I feel that exercising is therapeutic and I know that I have recovered some lost function through exercising. I’m convinced that if I didn’t exercise, I would have lost more function and exercise has helped me alter the trajectory of the condition. But I just enjoy doing it and feel so much better - even if I can’t move a step immediately afterwards!'

Find out more about exercise in our Choices booklet (PDF document)

Find out more about MS Awareness Week

Guest blog: “I feel like I’m getting one over on my MS”

Posted on: April 25 2019

As part of MS Awareness Week, in this guest blog Nigel tells us all about the social side of exercising and how it has helped him...

Photo of Nigel, MS-UK clientI have been living with multiple sclerosis (MS) for thirty-five years. In 2014 I noticed that walking was becoming more difficult and my MS nurse recommended that I contacted Josephs Court, MS-UK’s wellness centre in Colchester, Essex. I attended twice a week to exercise and became a founding member of their Steering Group. Before I was diagnosed with MS, I exercised every weekday walking for 10-15 minutes to the office where I worked in London. At lunchtime I would occasionally go for a 30 minute walk if the weather was kind, and this felt like it was a sufficient form of exercise. However I was unfortunately diagnosed with MS, but nevertheless I continued exercising in the same way for another 13 years until I eventually changed jobs in 1996. By then I commuted to Basildon by car – therefore my exercise regime came to an end.

But now, I visit Josephs Court two mornings a week, for 2-3 hours each time, and use most of the equipment available. I’ve also increased my exercise since the arrival of the latest university students, as one of them has given me some rigorous exercises using the parallel bars.

Now I feel that doing gentle exercise gives me a feeling of “getting one over on my MS” – it isn’t going to stop me from doing something that I enjoy, and there is a social aspect too. We are all suffering with the same disease label yet we don’t talk about it, we just enjoy one another’s company. The social aspect means I now have someone else to talk to, and shows that I needed something to relieve the boredom of not working, as I spent three years applying for jobs with no luck.

Finally, I thoroughly enjoying working with the student physiotherapist Becca, as she has brought new ways of exercising to me. I also find volunteering for MS-UK therapeutic – it is another reason for existing and gives me purpose.

Find out more about exercise in our Choices booklet (PDF document)

Find out more about MS Awareness Week

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