Boosting brain health

Both brain volume and cognitive reserve could help to protect you against the progression of physical disability and cognitive impairment when living with multiple sclerosis (MS). But how can you keep your brain healthy and take care of your reserve?

Your physical health and your brain health are interlinked

Looking after your general health can help both your brain and body cope with MS, protecting yourself against the impact that MS can have on your quality of life.

Click on the markers to understand the impact they have on your brain health and what you can do to look after them.

Look after your cardiovascular fitness

  • Keeping physically active is good for your brain health, it can even improve your brain by helping to develop its structure and function.3 But it’s especially important for you when living with MS as cardiovascular fitness is linked with both brain volume and cognitive reserve in people living with the condition.

  • You can improve your cardiovascular fitness by doing regular exercise that increases your heart rate. You may be thinking of intensive workouts like running or fitness classes, but there are many other things you can do like gardening, dancing, walking or swimming. If you find that you lose your balance you can even try doing exercises sitting in a chair. But more than anything, it’s best to find something you enjoy!

Check your blood pressure

  • Having high blood pressure can increase your risk of getting a cardiovascular disease. High blood pressure has also been linked to lower brain volume and greater disability in people living with MS.

  • Having high blood pressure is not something you can notice unless you get it checked when you see your doctor. Having high blood pressure can be caused by a number of things such as being overweight, having a diet high in salt, not doing enough exercise and regularly drinking too much alcohol. Therefore, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and having regular check-ups with your doctor is a good way to keep you blood pressure well managed.

Try to avoid smoking

  • Smoking may have a negative effect on you when living with MS for many reasons. Smoking has been linked to a number of things in MS, including higher relapse rate, increased disability progression and cognitive impairment when compared with non-smokers. Smokers with clinically isolated syndrome (CIS) are nearly twice as likely as non-smokers with CIS to develop lesions and are more likely to progress to MS.

  • There are a few things that can help you quit smoking. For example, getting support from your family and friends by telling them about your plans to quit. You can also talk to your doctor for help and advice.

Watch how much alcohol you drink

  • There are a number of health benefits when it comes to cutting down on alcohol. For example, it can significantly reduce your calorie intake and reduce your risk of getting a number of diseases. But it can also be especially beneficial for you when living with MS, where there is evidence that unsafe levels of drinking (currently or in the past) lead to reduced survival.

  • A good start is to keep track of how much you are drinking; you can do this by using unit calculators, which are available online. The recommended amount of alcohol that it is safe to drink every week varies from country to country. In the UK, it’s recommended that both men and women do not drink more than 14 units per week, but in some countries it’s much higher. In Denmark it’s 32 units for men and 21 for women.


    Video: Paola – Discusses the impact of her diet on her MS

Watch your weight

  • Living with MS can sometimes make it challenging to lose weight, or in some cases to gain it. It can also make preparing food and doing physical exercise more difficult. If you are trying to lose weight it’s important to avoid crash dieting, and instead set yourself achievable goals. It’s best to make changes that work for you and enable you to maintain a healthy diet and exercise frequently. You could even try planning your meals for the week ahead.

  • Obesity is a risk factor for a number of serious conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke. It has also been linked to a lower quality of life and mental illness. Living with MS, there is a chance you may develop a higher lesion numbers if you are obese.

Keeping your brain active

Both looking after your physical health and taking up activities that make you think and challenge your brain, can help to improve your cognitive reserve.

These kinds of activities have been shown to protect against cognitive impairment in MS if you do them throughout your life. So, it’s a good idea to find time for these activities every day!

Question:

Keeping my brain active is the best way to look after my brain health.

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Barbara Stensland – Looking after my cognitive health

Poll:

Which of the following aspects of your health and wellbeing are you most concerned with having a potential impact on your MS?

  • Fitness 0%
    Fitness 0%
  • Weight 0%
    Weight 0%
  • Smoking 0%
    Smoking 0%
  • Mental health 0%
    Mental health 0%
  • Cognitive health 0%
    Cognitive health 0%
  • Other 0%
    Other 0%
Thank you for your vote The results above show how everyone has voted

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A brain-healthy lifestyle means looking after your general health and taking part in activities that challenge your brain. Most of the things that can impact your health are interlinked, for example being overweight, inactive, smoking and drinking too much alcohol, all increase your risk of a number of serious conditions like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

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But some are also linked with certain consequences of living with MS such as lower brain volume, increased disability progression and cognitive problems.

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If you are worried, or want to know more about ways you can protect your brain health, it’s always best to talk to your doctor.

Create a personalised Talk to Your Doctor Guide to help you discuss your brain health with your neurologist and demand more from your life with MS.

  1. Brain health time matters in multiple sclerosis. Available at: http://msbrainhealth.org/perch/resources/time-matters-in-ms-report-may16.pdf
  2. Brain health a guide for people with MS. Available at: http://www.msbrainhealth.org/resources/for-people-with-ms/article/brain-health-a-guide-for-people-with-ms Accessed: May 2017.
  3. The brain-body connection: GCBH recommendations on Physical Activity and Brain Health. Available at: http://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/health/brain_health/2016/05/gcbh-the-brain-body-connection.pdf Accessed: May 2017.
  4. Exercise. Available at: https://www.mstrust.org.uk/a-z/exercise#fitness
  5. How to quit smoking. Available at: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/addictions/how-to-quit-smoking.htm
  6. Clinically isolated syndrome. Available at: https://www.mstrust.org.uk/a-z/clinically-isolated-syndrome-cis
  7. How to cut down. Available at: https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/advice/how-to-reduce-your-drinking/how-to-cut-down/
  8. New alcohol guidelines: what you need to know. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-35252650
  9. High blood pressure. Available at: https://www.bhf.org.uk/heart-health/risk-factors/high-blood-pressure
  10. Managing your weight. Available at: https://www.mssociety.org.uk/managing-your-weight
  11. The health effects of overweight and obesity. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/effects/index.html
  12. Cardiovascular disease. Available at: https://www.bhf.org.uk/heart-health/conditions/cardiovascular-disease

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