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How to Stay Healthy in the Winter Months

By Daryl H. Bryant (500 words)
Posted in Living with MS on January 17, 2013

There are (11) comments permalink

How to Stay Healthy in the Winter Months

People with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) sometimes experience more flare ups during winter. The colder weather has a strong correlation not only with MS symptoms but also the prevalence and development of the condition. Rates for people with MS increase as people get further away from the equator. Through understanding the link between colder weather and MS, people with the condition can better stay healthy during winter.

Multiple Sclerosis is rare in tropical countries and high in countries far from the equator, where there is less sunshine, in both hemispheres. Canada and Northern Scotland has the highest rates of the condition worldwide. People living in the northern parts of the United States are five times more likely to have MS than people in the south. Although there are a few exceptions, MS rates almost always are found to be higher in areas with a colder climate.

This discovery led to what is known as the latitude hypothesis, namely that where people live and how much sunlight they get is a significant risk factor for the condition. To stay healthy, people should make sure they spend time outdoors to soak in whatever sun they can and also watch their vitamin D intake. The body uses sunlight to make vitamin D, which is a nutrient not found in many foods. People can get vitamin D from oily fish, some mushrooms, egg yolks, and milk products. However, sunlight provides significantly more. People with MS may require vitamin D supplements though, especially during winter when sunlight is low.

People with MS can take vitamin D supplements in addition to eating vitamin D foods to help maintain their health. Adults should aim for 600 IU of vitamin D per day, or more if a doctor recommends a higher dosage. However, people should not consume more than 4,000 IU each day. Getting enough sleep is also crucial for maintaining health during winter, a time when colds and flus are prevalent. People with MS are at a higher risk of catching a cold or other bug if they are not sleeping well.

Many people with MS can experience difficulty sleeping at some point. Some ways to improve sleep include:

  • Abstaining from caffeinated food and beverages
  • Performing stretching exercises before bedtime
  • Working out consistently
  • Refraining from eating protein before bedtime
  • Consuming snacks with carbohydrates before bedtime

Exercising regularly is always a good way to maintain health, but working out during winter may require some adjustments. When exercising at home or at the gym, people with MS should stay away from places where hot air is blowing, such as in front of a heating vent. Exercising outdoors can be comfortable for people who do not tolerate heat well. Some good winter activities include curling, skiing, and ski biking. These activities let people exercise at their own speed.

Following some healthy guidelines can help people avoid worsening MS symptoms during winter.

Comments (11)

Wendy posted on: January 17, 2013

That is because it is believed to be from the lack of vitamin D, but I have NEVER heard of flare ups being more common in the winter.
Mine are always more common and worse in WARM and HOT weather.

Daryl posted on: January 17, 2013

Hi Wendy,

Thank you for your comment!

On a personal note, I experience more side effects in warmer weather. However, I do know fellow MS patients who actually prefer the heat to the cold. It is tough to say one way or the other because everyone is different, but after your advice I edited my first sentence to reflect as such.


Trick posted on: January 17, 2013

I do worse in the summer months than the winter,I feel like I have more energy in the winter,always take a warm shower not hot or cold,it is better for me,just like when my back is acting up or my legs I have to do the cold packs or stick my legs in the tub and run cold water over them,like you all said, everyone is different and everyone's MS is different.Everyone take care with this flu going around..

Kim posted on: January 17, 2013

I actually do significantly worse in the cold weather. I got diagnosed in the winter when I was experiencing symptoms. I've had vertigo, weakness in my leg and numbness. I must be one of the exceptions to the rule!! During the summer I run outside daily and am symptom free. I wish they would research winter related flare ups more.

Judith posted on: January 17, 2013

I am worse in the winter. Getting a cold leads to MS'y stuff. I usually don't get a cold in the summer.

Charleen posted on: January 17, 2013

Either way for me - Love the hot weather just can't handle it if the isnt a breeze. The cold weather - My toes always are numb. Almost all winter???

Judy Caceres posted on: January 17, 2013

I have always loved the sun the beach (Miami Beach)would love to get a good tan. Since I have MS cant tolerate the heat, warm/hot weather it triggers my symptom.
It wears/drains me out. Get vertigo, weakness , spasm. When i get sick of a cold or anything all my Ms pains start to act up.

Sandy Jones posted on: January 17, 2013

I also have flareups when the weather gets warmer. I actually feel better in cooler temps.

millie alaimo posted on: January 18, 2013

My problem is heat intolerantist even in the winter as soon as the heat goes on I have some major symtoms..I feel like having a heat stroke and a sweat attack as if I drenched in Lake..once heat is lowered under 65 I then can tolerate so definately notice the summer I stay indoors in air condition...I hate this cause I lve the sun and heat..jusy being outdooes so this has really depressed me..and all the ills that come with it...

marianne posted on: January 22, 2013

My sister has flare ups both winter and summer. Here in Michigan it's -3 today. Unless it's an absolute emergency she would never venture outdoors on a day like this, or last summer when the temperature soared to 109.

Karen P. posted on: February 4, 2013

I was diagnosed in September last year and have since been hospitalised 4 times for exacerbations. I am new to this but I can attest to the cold months being extremely bad on my body.

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