Living with MS: Diet, Exercise and Work

Living with MS: Diet, Exercise and Work

Contrary to popular belief, people with multiple sclerosis can lead an utterly everyday life. When it comes to nutrition, there are a few things to consider. Both the body and the soul can benefit from regular exercise. However, the diagnosis of the chronic disease usually represents a drastic turning point in the lives of those affected, who are primarily young and means a redefinition of their professional and private future.

Diet in multiple sclerosis

The exact triggers of MS, as well as the causes, are not yet known. MS is ubiquitous in industrially developed countries with more temperate climates. In these countries, high-fat foods such as meat, sausage, cheese and butter are part of the diet. Climate, diet and lifestyle, therefore, impact multiple sclerosis.

It has not been scientifically proven that a specific diet positively affects the course of MS. This is only assumed and reported by those affected. As in the general nutritional recommendations, the diet for MS should be as balanced and nutritious as possible, with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and little meat and fat.

It is assumed that certain messenger substances are responsible for the misdirected immune response in MS. These are formed from the polyunsaturated fatty acid arachidonic acid, mainly found in animal foods. For this reason, the diet in MS should be limited to a maximum of two meat meals per week. Fatty sausage and offal should be avoided.

Instead of animal fats such as butter, lard and goose fat, diet margarine and vegetable oils (soybean oil, linseed oil, wheat germ oil) are suitable. A high proportion of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been proven to inhibit the formation of inflammatory substances in the body, is ideal. Many types of fish also have these fatty acids in high concentrations. An optimal menu includes at least two to three meals with oily seafood per week.


Healthy eating for multiple sclerosis at a glance

  • daily fruit and vegetables (especially berries are recommended, as well as daily fresh herbs)
  • fish and protein foods regularly
  • preferably whole grain products (pasta, ricebread, flour)
  • little animal products, such as meat, sausage, eggs and milk
  • Less fat
  • little alcohol

Sport in multiple sclerosis

Sport has many positive effects on body and soul – this also applies to multiple sclerosis. This improves body awareness and mobility but also reduces the risk of depression.

In general, exercise can bring a variety of health benefits:

  • Regular exercise gets your cardiovascular system going and reduces stress.
  • Exercising can lower cholesterol.
  •  Sport can positively affect the risk of developing osteoporosis or arteriosclerosis.
  • The immune system can also benefit from sports and exercise.
  • Anyone suffering from MS can usefully supplement physiotherapy by practising certain types of sports.
  • Exercise has a positive effect on fatigue in MS.


What should sufferers pay attention to?

According to current knowledge, a mixture of cardio and strength training makes the most sense for people with multiple sclerosis. It’s essential to find a healthy level of exertion and avoid overexertion. According to the German Multiple Sclerosis Society (DMSG), two to three weekly training sessions, each lasting ten to 40 minutes, are recommended.

Since temperature regulation is often impaired in people with MS, it is essential to ensure that sports are not carried out in overheated rooms or outdoors with extreme heat. Drinking enough fluids before, during and after exercise is also advisable. The so-called Uthoff phenomenon often occurs in MS. Neurological symptoms worsen when body temperature increases through exercise. However, this usually disappears after sport and can be regulated again, for example, by taking a cool shower.

It is advisable to consult your doctor or physiotherapist before exercising to achieve the best possible therapeutic effects.

Choice of sport in multiple sclerosis

Several factors are critical to the choice of sport in MS. On the one hand, the physical condition plays a significant role, as well as the symptoms that have occurred so far. On the other hand, individual skills and personal inclinations to certain sports are also decisive.

Sports proven to work for people with MS:

  • Swimming: Ideal for many people with MS since the weightlessness in the water makes gymnastic exercises possible, which the disease can limit outside the water. Swimming can promote endurance and coordination, so positive effects on movement disorders ( ataxia ) and fatigue are possible. The movement sequences can minimize existing spasms. However, when swimming, it should be noted that the buoyancy of the water could also increase the risk of muscle hypertonia in the case of severe spasticity. Therefore, sports in the water with MS should be clarified beforehand with a doctor or physiotherapist.
  • Yoga: Typical yoga movements and stretching exercises can improve spasticity. Breathing exercises in yoga bring about holistic relaxation in the body. Strengthening and coordination improve disturbances in the movement sequences.
  • Nordic Walking Ideal for the cardiovascular system. Nordic Walking trains endurance, strengthens arms and legs and improves coordination. Depending on the stage of MS, Nordic walking can positively affect ataxia, spasticity and paralysis.
  • Tai Chi: Slow and consciously performed exercises in Tai Chi support coordination and train balance. Movement can also reduce spasticity while standing.

Profession and workplace with multiple sclerosis

More than healthy people, people with MS need to avoid both physical and psychological stress to live well with their disease. MS progresses very differently: while some sufferers are severely affected, many others can live with it without significant restrictions. Therefore, the MS diagnosis should not automatically lead to professional resignation. On the contrary, many of those affected cope better with the disease thanks to the distraction and the confirmation they get from their job.

People with multiple sclerosis should also avoid stress at work as much as possible so as not to provoke flare-ups. Therefore, jobs with night or double shifts are just as unsuitable as jobs with a high-stress factor or long journeys. The workplace should be designed so that you feel comfortable and can work in peace. Make sure that the nearest toilet is as short as possible and that you have access to a window that you can open during working hours to take a little break in the fresh air.


Dealing openly with the disease

You are not obliged to tell us about your illness during the interview. However, if the job is demanding and you are unsure whether you can afford it, you must inform the potential employer. This also applies to a confirmed severe disability.

If you expect support from your boss through flexible working hours or a transfer in your job after the multiple sclerosis diagnosis, you must explain your motives to him. However, if you can remain in your previous job, it is up to you to decide whether you inform employers and colleagues about the disease.

Think about how open you want to be about the disease. While positive stress and the personal affirmation of challenge at work are essential and beneficial for people with MS, too much stress can quickly have the opposite effect. The concealment of the disease can also have adverse effects on the course of the disease by hiding and covering up the symptoms.

If your job offers a harmonious working environment, it can be helpful to play with open cards. Inform colleagues about multiple sclerosis disease and your symptoms and complaints about it. If you have understanding colleagues, they will be more considerate in the future if you ever suffer from tiredness or lack of concentration.

However, also explain that you will not automatically end up in a wheelchair but that the course of the disease can vary greatly. In this way, you remove the fear and shyness of MS from your colleagues and show them they can continue to count on a full-fledged employee. MS patients are not legally obliged to talk about the disease at work unless the symptoms of multiple sclerosis pose a danger to you and others in your job.


Extra large monitors and keyboards can make working on the PC more accessible, depending on the symptoms. Since the course of MS is difficult to predict, you should also consider whether your workplace can be reached with a wheelchair if necessary or at least be redesigned to be barrier-free. Since high temperatures affect many of those affected, ensure the room temperature is as low as possible. Air conditioning is usually helpful in summer. If working with MS daily in your office is impossible, you can consult your boss about working from home. This would also eliminate the potentially strenuous commute to work.

If you suffer from intermittent dizzy spells, balance disorders and lack of concentration, you should avoid working at great heights or on heavy machinery.

Whether an affected person decides to retire from working life depends initially on how severely affected they are by the disease. For example, if he can hardly get out of bed due to extreme tiredness (fatigue) and pain, full-time employment is no longer an option.

Before leaving your job altogether, however, measures such as retraining, working part-time, taking part-time retirement, or being promoted within the company to a less demanding position should be considered. This contributes to the financial independence and self-confidence of the person concerned and gives the boss the experience and competence of a valuable employee.

However, those affected who are coping quite well with their illness and feel comfortable in their job can easily remain in working life. After all, more than a third of all MS sufferers in Germany work in a regular job until they retire. If you are still unsure whether you can meet the full-time job requirements, you should talk to your doctor and then to your employer.

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