Some behaviors, such as regular moderate exercise, combined with disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) may help reduce symptoms and slow disease progression for some people with MS.
There are four basic disease courses of MS:
- clinically isolated syndrome (CIS)
- relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS)
- secondary progressive MS (SPMS)
- primary progressive MS (PPMS)
How the disease progresses depends on the course.
People with RRMS generally have relapses with periods of remission in between. If RRMS progresses or worsens, you may develop SPMS. SMPS is more aggressive. It features a progressive worsening of neurologic function over time.
About 15% of people with MS will receive a diagnosis of PPMS. PPMS features a slow and steady disease progression with no remission periods.
Although lifestyle changes alone won’t stop disease progression, they may help reduce symptoms, lower the number of relapses, and improve overall health for some people.
With that in mind, here are seven practical tips you can incorporate into your life to help slow the progression of MS.
1. Quit smoking, if you smoke
If there’s one change you can make that will have the most impact on MS, it’s quitting cigarette smoking if you’re a current smoker. Cigarette smoking is a modifiable risk factor that contributes to MS disease progression.
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, people with MS who smoke tend to have more disease activity and disability than nonsmokers. Smoking increases the risk of MS progression. People with MS who smoke may also not get the full effect of DMTs.
Many people don’t associate smoking with an increase in disability and the development of disease progression. A 2020 study involving 29 active smokers with MS found that
In people whose MS progresses to SPMS, smoking cessation can delay the time it takes to transition to SPMS. Plus, quitting smoking can improve MS symptoms, the number of relapses, the level of disability, and motor strength and cognition.
If you’re interested in smoking cessation programs, talk with a doctor or check out the resources at Smokefree.gov.
2. Reduce alcohol consumption
Drinking alcohol can impair balance and coordination, at least temporarily, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Alcohol can also interfere with certain medications due to the effect it has on the central nervous system. Because of this, a doctor may recommend lowering your alcohol intake.
3. Incorporate moderate exercise
- mobility issues
The key to physical activity, though, is finding an exercise you enjoy that’s at an intensity that works for your fitness level and ability.
In general, the recommended exercise guidelines for people with MS include at least 150 minutes per week of exercise or lifestyle physical activity, such as cleaning or gardening.
The focus should be on gradual progress based on your abilities, preferences, and safety, according to a
- water aerobics
- gentle stretching
- chair yoga
- resistance training
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society recommends water workouts for stretching tight muscles and improving flexibility but notes the pool temperature should not exceed 84°F (29°C).
If possible, consider working with a physical or occupational therapist experienced in MS. They can establish a personalized program and monitor activity, especially if physical mobility is limited. Issues related to balance and mobility need close supervision.
Make sure to talk with your doctor or treatment team before beginning any new exercise program.
4. Make dietary changes
A balanced, nutrient-dense diet is essential for overall health. While there isn’t one diet proven to slow MS progression, there are some foods to include and avoid.
Foods high in antioxidants, fiber, calcium, vitamin D, and other vitamins and minerals are a great place to start, according to a
Add lean protein sources, such as salmon, and foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, and you have a well-rounded MS diet.
MS-friendly foods to include:
- fresh fruits and vegetables
- whole grains, like rice, oats, and quinoa
- plant-based foods and grains
- fatty fish, including salmon and mackerel
- healthy fats found in flaxseed, olive oil, avocado oil
- legumes, nuts, and seeds
- low sugar, low fat yogurt
Foods to minimize or avoid:
- saturated and animal fats
- processed red meat
- highly processed foods and ready-made meals
- fried foods, like chips and french fries
- foods high in sugar
- foods high in sodium
- sugar-sweetened drinks, such as sodas
Anecdotally, some people in the MS community find relief from symptoms by following specific diet plans like paleo, Wahls Protocol, Swank diet, and going gluten-free.
5. Stick to a consistent sleep schedule
Getting enough sleep is important for general health. It’s even more critical for people with MS: According to a
- Get 7 or more hours of sleep per night (for people ages 18–60).
- Wake up and go to bed at about the same time each day.
- Keep the bedroom dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature.
- Get physical activity during the day.
- Do not use tobacco.
- Avoid alcohol, large meals, and caffeine before bedtime.
- Remove all electronic devices from the bedroom.
6. Follow your treatment plan
The best way to manage MS symptoms and slow disease progression is to follow the treatment plan recommended by your doctor and healthcare team.
This includes drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that delay the progression of disability, reduce relapses, and limit new disease activity, according to the
It’s also essential to follow a treatment plan for any other health conditions that may worsen MS symptoms or disease progression.
7. Avoid triggers
Avoiding MS triggers, when possible, may help prevent relapses. Common MS triggers can include:
- extreme hot temperatures
- extreme cold temperatures
Can MS be stopped from progressing?
While there is no one way to stop MS from progressing, you may be able to slow or delay disease progression by following your treatment plan and taking doctor-prescribed disease-modifying therapies.
What helps slow the progression of MS?
Using disease-modifying therapies as prescribed, along with lifestyle strategies like eating a nutritious and balanced diet and getting regular physical activity, may help slow disease progression in people with MS.
If you smoke, quitting smoking can also help slow disease progression.
Can you prevent MS from getting worse?
Following your treatment plan, along with certain lifestyle behaviors, like getting enough sleep and physical activity, may help reduce symptoms and relapses and support your overall health and well-being.
How do you stop MS symptoms from getting worse?
Following your treatment plan and taking all medications as prescribed may help slow or delay disease progression in MS.
You may be able to prevent MS relapses by avoiding triggers, such as extreme temperatures and illness, when possible.
Some lifestyle strategies, such as following a nutritious diet and quitting smoking, if you smoke, may also have a positive effect.
MS is a lifelong condition that often worsens over time. But with the right treatment plan and lifestyle strategies, you can improve your overall quality of life.
Once you begin making lifestyle changes, make sure to track your progress and note any increase or decrease in symptoms.