In the 1970s, multiple sclerosis (MS) was a very different disease than it is today. Back then, the average time from diagnosis to death was seven years. Today, that figure stands at around 30 years thanks in large part to the introduction of disease-modifying drugs in 1993.
What this means is that from the average age of diagnosis to the average age of death, the life expectancy of people living with MS today is around 76 years compared 83 years for those in the general population.
Does this mean you are destined to lose those seven years or that you can forget about shooting for your 80s or even 90s?
Not at all. The simple truth is that you control many of the factors that are linked to a healthier and longer lifespan. So rather than surrender to the law of averages, you can exceed averages by paying closer attention to not only your health (including your heart, lungs, and brain), but your emotional well-being as well.
Here are five simple fixes that can help:
1.Think Positive About Aging
Start by forgetting the statistics. There is just as much research out there showing that the way we view aging can influence our health and not only for better but for the worse.
A 2012 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Associationfound that older adults who held positive “age stereotypes” (for example, that age brings wisdom and self-realization rather than sickness and disability) had a higher level of functioning and were more able to recover from physical setbacks.
The first thing to do is to avoid getting stuck on the concept that MS is a “progressive” disease. In the end, illness is not an inevitability if you take a more progressive stance to your health moving forward.
2.Eat the Rainbow
Eating healthy is the first and perhaps most important way to take charge of your health if you are living with MS.
An easy way to do this is to “eat the rainbow.” This means consuming as many colors of fruits and vegetables as part of a balanced diet. Think berries with oatmeal for breakfast, a big green salad with grilled chicken at lunch, and roasted root vegetables with fish for dinner.
Focus on food with anti-inflammatory properties. From a dietary standpoint, this means:
- Three to four servings of fruit daily and four to five servings of vegetables daily
- Choosing beans, legumes and whole grains to reduce blood sugar spikes
- Choosing Omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats over saturated and (heaven forbid) trans fats
- Reducing fats from animal fat
- Cutting back sugar and refined flour which can also trigger blood sugar spike.
3.Get Up and Start Moving
Exercise is central any healthy aging plan. You cannot assume that diet alone will take care of everything, especially insofar as MS is concerned.
This doesn’t mean taking up a hardcore fitness routine. Instead, figure out ways to exercise and improve cardiovascular health without overheating and triggering the effects of MS-related heat intolerance.
Focus on building your balance and flexibility, such as with yoga, tai chi, or rubber band resistance training. Increase your cardio fitness by cycling or walking (rather than running a marathon) or swimming (rather than hitting a Zumba class).
In other words, make appropriate choices for your age and fitness level. Speak with your doctor before starting any exercise program and consider working with a trained fitness program to better ensure you meet your program goals.