Many people with multiple sclerosis (MS) experience weight gain due to reduced energy levels or treatment side effects. Low impact exercises and dietary changes may help manage weight fluctuations.

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Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease in which the immune system attacks the central nervous system. This attack causes the protective sheath around nerves to become damaged and can lead to a range of symptoms.

In most people with MS, symptoms get worse during flare-ups but then improve. In some cases, the symptoms of numbness and tingling, blurred vision, dizziness, and pain worsen over time.

It’s also common for people with MS to gain weight due to their symptoms. It’s important to try and reach a moderate weight and maintain it. Being overweight or underweight can worsen MS symptoms.

Read on to learn how to maintain a moderate weight with MS.

MS causes fatigue, making you feel too exhausted for physical activity. The pain and dizziness can also affect your energy levels when it comes to exercising.

Symptoms of depression are also common for people with MS. Depression may cause overeating or under eating, both of which can negatively impact health.

MS treatment can also cause weight fluctuations. Steroid therapy is often prescribed to decrease inflammation, and it can cause weight gain.

Exercise is beneficial for people with MS, whether they want to lose or gain weight. Though gaining weight is more common with MS, weight loss and muscle wasting can occur in advanced and serious cases.

People who experience muscle loss usually have symptoms that are severe enough to limit mobility. Exercising and eating a balanced diet can help you avoid losing muscle mass.

Fatigue and MS symptoms, such as body temperature shifts, can make exercising regularly more difficult. But there are certain activities that may be more beneficial when you’re experiencing symptoms.

For example, swimming may be helpful, and it doesn’t put pressure on your joints. Water activities may also help with your symptoms if your body temperature rises while exercising. You can also wear a cooling vest or scarf when doing outdoor activities like hiking.

Remember, exercises don’t have to be physically draining. A short walk each day can make a world of difference. You can also practice low-impact exercises like stationary bicycling, tai chi, and yoga.

Yoga, which you can do at your own speed, may help:

  • relieve certain symptoms
  • improve muscle strength
  • reduce stress levels
  • reduce your fatigue, which may motivate you to get even more exercise

Be sure to speak with your healthcare provider before beginning a more strenuous exercise regimen.

Consider working with trainers who’ve worked with people with MS. They can help develop a strength-training program that suits your overall health condition.

Benefits of exercise for people with MS

  • Reduce weight
  • strengthen muscles
  • improve mobility
  • increase energy levels
  • reduce the severity of your MS symptoms
  • improve your mood
  • boost immune function

As you build an exercise routine, these habits will also help your body relax. According to Harvard Health Publications, exercise can also help you reduce stress and improve your mood. Also, it stimulates your brain to create natural painkillers, or endorphins.

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Often, eating nutrient-rich meals goes hand in hand with exercise for weight loss. But it’s important not to think of your eating habits as “dieting,” especially when there’s no specific eating plan for people with MS.

Most specialists recommend that people with MS follow a general lower fat, high fiber diet. Maintaining a small and sustainable calorie deficit can help you lose excess weight gradually and safely.

Some research suggests that certain diets, including ketogenic, paleo, and fasting mimicking, may improve some symptoms in people with MS.

A warning about special diets

There are many kinds of special diets, and some that specifically target people with MS. Most of these diets have no or little evidence about their benefits, though more research is needed. Many have not been tested for effectiveness or safety.

It’s important to speak with your healthcare team if you’re interested in trying any specific diet to ensure safety. Your healthcare team can help you decide the best dietary pattern for your individual needs.

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In general, weight loss happens when you burn more calories than you consume. How many calories you need depends on a number of factors, including your:

  • sex
  • current weight
  • activity levels

These numbers differ from person to person, and your healthcare team can help guide you.

Sticking to a well-balanced meal plan and learning portion control can help you achieve your weight loss goals. Visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s site Choose My Plate to learn more about portion control and what types of foods to prioritize.

The quality of food also counts. Try to stick to whole, unprocessed choices such as:

  • fresh fruits and vegetables
  • whole grains
  • lean proteins
  • olive and fish oils

There’s some evidence that omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids have benefits for people with MS. A 2019 review of studies suggested that omega-3 and fish oils supplements show benefits for reducing relapse rates, inflammatory markers, and quality of life for those with MS.

Biotin, a B vitamin, may also help with disability progression. According to a 2016 study, high doses of biotin showed a sustained reversal of MS-related disability.

Research shows that people with MS are more likely to be deficient in several nutrients, including vitamin D, vitamin A, and B12.

People who have MS may need to supplement with these nutrients in order to maintain healthy levels. Increasing dietary intake of folate, magnesium, and iron may also be helpful for people with MS.

More research needs to be done, but it may be worth consulting your doctor or dietician for advice.

Exercise is still important, especially if you’re trying to gain weight. In addition to strengthening your muscles, exercise can also stimulate your appetite.

Being underweight may also be a sign of nutritional deficiencies. Talk with a healthcare professional if you’re losing weight over time. You may need to change medications or try another type of treatment. A registered dietitian can also help you create a diet that will help you to put on more weight.

Planning your meals and cooking more than you need so that you can have food that’s easily reheated may also help, especially when you don’t feel like cooking. It can also help you avoid skipping meals.

Maintaining your physical health, mental health, and keeping your stress levels low can help keep your weight in a range that benefits you most. Other treatment options that may help include:

For the majority of people with MS, it’s possible to manage weight loss or gain. Exercise can help with both, as well as symptoms of MS.

Some physical activities such as swimming and yoga may also be more beneficial than others if you frequently experience symptoms.

Reach out to your doctor if you’re having difficulty managing your weight or want advice about eating or staying active.