Time to Cool Down – Cooling Vests for MS Heat Sensitivity

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Though spring has just begun for many around the country, some individuals may already
be thinking about the upcoming summer months and what that means – heat! For individuals with MS who experience heat sensitivity with their MS symptoms, the idea of facing the heat and humidity the summer season brings can be stressful. But it’s important to know there are some ways you can cool your body down and feel some relief with those hot and humid days. MSAA offers a Cooling Equipment Distribution Program which provides different ice-pack style cooling vests and accessory options that can be worn on the body for relief from the heat. With differing vest styles ranging from those that can be worn under or over your clothing, and kit accessories that include cooling wrist and ankle wraps, the program has something to fit individual needs. For more information, see the MSAA website at http://mymsaa.org/msaa-help/cooling/.

*Please note the program eligibility requirements within the application.

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New Year’s Resolution Follow Up

By: Matt Cavallo 

Raise your hand if you have stuck to your New Year’s resolution. Believe it or not, we are a quarter of the way through 2014 and reserving the right to recycle our resolutions for next year. I’ll be the first to throw myself under that bus! Seeing as we are a quarter of the way through the year, I wanted to follow up on some of the goals that I set and challenge myself to recommit to my original 2014 goals.

In January, I wrote that I was carrying about twenty one pounds of extra weight. This extra weight was making my legs weak and numb, my fatigue levels were high, and my clothes were uncomfortable. I resolved to lose twenty one pounds. My thinking was that in addition to my multiple sclerosis, the extra weight was contributing to the weakness in my legs and fatigue. My plan was to eat right, eat less and exercise more.

Eating right is a challenge to me. My line of work has me traveling the country almost every week. Seven out of eight weeks between January and February, I traveled. In fact, I am writing this right now on a flight from St. Louis back home to Phoenix. Between living in hotel rooms and the demands of my job, I didn’t have the strength or energy to get a healthy meal when there was a convenient drive-thru option. These eating decisions were the reason that I was struggling to button my pants!

Despite traveling extensively, I was determined to not have to buy new pants. I made the decision that I was going to lose weight on the road by changing my habits. First, I started with breakfast. The hotels that I stay at always have a breakfast buffet. There is an endless supply of bacon, eggs, toast and pastries. Most mornings I can smell the bacon long before I reach the buffet. As much as it pains me, the first change I made was skipping out of the buffet line and heading right to the yogurt and fruit. This change has been hard for me, and there are some days that I can’t resist a big breakfast, but I find that starting the day on the road with yogurt, fruit and a glass of water can be fulfilling and helps my digestive process.

For lunch, I have also been eating lighter. I work in hospitals, so I generally eat lunch at the cafeteria. The cafeterias generally tempt me with yummy burger, pizza or fried chicken options. Again I hold my nose and walk past temptation to the salad bar. I typically eat a salad and top it with some chicken. In the past, however, I would have smothered my healthy salad with a nice creamy ranch dressing, but lately I have opted for the lighter vinaigrettes. These dressings coat the salad easier, so you use less, and they are typically fewer calories than the creamy dressings I prefer.

These decisions that I make for breakfast and lunch afford me some slack at dinner. While my preference at the end of a long day of work on the road is for a double-stacked greasy drive-thru burger, large fries, and chocolate shake, I have been choosing healthier options. Instead of driving through, I place orders that force me to get out of the car. Instead of greasy, fried goodness, I have also been choosing lighter, grilled options.

The other thing that I am doing is consuming smaller portions. Part of it has to do with the fact that I don’t want to buy new pants, but I have found that once I cut back on my portion size, my body got used to it pretty fast. When I was consistently eating heavy meals, I needed more food. Now that I am eating less, I find that I get fuller faster. I am by nature a fast eater, who in the past would clean my plate before others around me had barely started. I now make a conscious effort to slow down and enjoy the food. By doing this, I don’t always have to clean my plate. Drinking more water throughout the day has also been a daily goal of mine. I found that some of my hunger may have been more related to being dehydrated than actually hungry.

With all of these changes, I have lost eleven pounds, which is halfway to my goal weight. My legs feel lighter, and I am less fatigued. And yes, my pants are now less of a struggle to button!

While I am winning the battle with diet, I am losing with exercise. I have made my annual post-resolution trip to the gym. I worked out, felt great and haven’t been back since! There is a free gym in every hotel where I stay, but I find myself alone in my room catching up TV shows or movies that I can’t watch at home because of the kids. I do tend to take the stairs instead of the elevator and keep true to my daily walks, but I know that I would feel so much better if I could just commit to working out.

So, a quarter into the year, and I am doing OK with my resolutions. I have lost half of my goal weight by making better eating decisions which included eating healthier and having smaller portion sizes. It was a struggle at first, but I feel better only ninety days into this year than I did last year. While I am doing well with diet, I have not followed through with exercise. Much like diet, once I establish a routine, I’ll be used to it and it will become natural. I am not there yet. However, New Year’s is not the only time for resolutions. You can recommit to feeling healthier anytime during the year. Are you accomplishing your resolutions? What are you going to do to get back on track? Invest in yourself because you are worth it, and be the change you want to be.

*Matt Cavallo was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005. Matt is an MS blogger, author, patient advocate, and motivational speaker. Matt also has his Master’s degree in Public Health Administration. Matt is the proud father of his two sons, loving husband to his wife, Jocelyn, and best friend to his dog, Teddy. Originally from the Boston suburbs, Matt currently resides in Arizona with his family. To learn more about Matt, please visit him at : http://mattcavallo.com/blog/

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Spring into Action

Spring into Action

Well, it’s officially spring… although I know a lot of people up north would disagree with the cold weather… but I thought I would talk about some of things that I do to “Spring into Action” around this time of year.

Since the weather is actually REALLY nice in Texas right now, I’ve been trying to spend a lot of time outside… and for those of you who enjoy the outdoors as much as I do, there are some things we need to take into account. Like… how long should we stay outside? For me, it’s all about reading the signs my body gives me. If I start to feel overheated, I go into shade, or go inside. If I’m REALLY overheated, like I get in the 100+ Degree Weather we have in Texas during the summer, a cold shower always helps!

Now, before it gets TOO hot outside, there are some things you can do that will help you manage the heat later on. Do you have any MS Cooling Packs? If not, I highly recommend checking out MSAA’s Cooling Distribution Program. I’ve come to find that the Cooling Neck & Upper Spine Wrap, from Polar Products, really cools my core temperature. Also, there are those little Wrist Cooling Wraps that help as well. Also, when sitting outside on those hot summer days, I LOVE my Cooling Seat Cushion. Now these are just my personal opinion that I’ve found through trying different types of cooling products that help me out, and that I also don’t have to put on under clothing.

When it comes to any type of cooling product used for Heat Intolerance & MS, I feel like it’s a personal preference. The ones listed above are what I use when I’m just sitting outside, watching the kids play, etc. But when it comes to doing things outside like going on walks, yard work, etc. This is when I would use my Cooling Vest. There are A LOT of different types to choose from, so again, personal preference. By clicking on any of the links above, it will take you to different things offered by Polar Products. But there are other Cooling Product Companies out there; I just listed the ones that I have personally used.

Now, I know that a lot of us made some promises to ourselves for the New Year to become more active, eat healthier, etc. I’ve been doing that… and I have a gym membership… and I can say that the exercise that I can do the easiest is swimming. I did make sure that the gym I got a membership to had an INDOOR pool, because with the way the weather has been lately, you never know what you’re going to get.

I’m not going to say it was REALLY easy beginning exercising regularly again, but I do enjoy it. I think one of the most frustrating things I’ve been dealing with is the fact that I was so used to what I was able to do BEFORE I got MS, when I was in Athletics in school, Swim Team and things like that. But I’ve come to the realization that if I don’t want to overdo and aggravate my MS & MS Symptoms, that I have to make a new routine. It takes time, but I feel like I have more energy now. I don’t go to the gym every day, but I do try and walk a little bit on the days that I don’t.

Now about this whole “eating healthy” thing… let me just say that I am a born & raised Texan, and I love my southern food and Mexican food… so this is a REALLY tough issue! I’m not being REALLY intense with it, but I am watching my portions and things like that. I won’t ever be able to stay away from carbs and all of that yummy stuff that I crave, so I decided I wasn’t going to make a plan that I wasn’t going to fully stick with. But by watching my portions and having small snacks in between meals, it’s pretty easy, for me anyway. Oh, and let me just tell you that I am a VERY picky eater and don’t eat the suggested fruits and vegetable intake that you’re supposed to, but I did find a yummy supplement at a health store that I mix with water in the morning and drink that with my breakfast (it tastes like candy, by the way) and that way, I have had my “suggested daily fruits and veggie intake.”

Okay – I hope I didn’t overload you with all that information, but I did want to cover a few of those topics that I know are really popular right now. I hope everyone is outside enjoying the weather- if it’s not too cold, that is.

For more information about Resources for your MS, check out MSWorld’s Resource Center.

Best Wishes!

Ashley Ringstaff – Volunteer for MSWorld.org

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Is There a Relationship Between MS, Allergies and Histamine?

By: Matt Cavallo 

Spring is in the air. So is pollen. With the pollen, my seasonal allergies are in full bloom. I am still sneezing from the last time I stopped to smell the roses. With my seasonal allergies at their peak, I wondered: is there a correlation between multiple sclerosis and allergies?

When I started my research, I was instantly disappointed. All of the initial research pointed to no correlation between MS and allergies. In fact, a 2011 study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) titled, Association between allergies and multiple sclerosis: a systematic review and meta-analysis, concluded that there was no connection between allergic diseases and MS.

While the initial research suggested no direct correlation between MS and allergies, the deeper I dug, a relationship between histamine and multiple sclerosis started to evolve. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, histamine is a “biologically active substance found in a great variety of living organisms…In an allergic reaction—the immune system’s hypersensitivity reaction to usually harmless foreign substances (called antigens in this context) that enter the body—mast cells release histamine in inordinate amounts.” The definition goes on to explain that the antigens can cause inflammation. After reading this research, my questions became: Does the inflammation caused by these antigens contribute to MS symptoms? And is this partly why I feel worse when my allergies are at their peak?

My questions lead me to research more about histamine and MS. As it turns out there are research studies ongoing exploring the relationship between MS and histamine. A study of histamines and MS on Science Daily found an “unexpected connection between pathways involved in autoimmunity and allergy and suggests previously unrecognized connections between these very different types of immune responses.” The NCBI concluded in a 2013 study, Elevated CSF histamine levels in multiple sclerosis patients, that MS patients had higher histamine levels than the control group and that further exploration was needed.

I am not a scientist, nor am I a doctor. I’m just a guy with MS and bad seasonal allergies. I know that when I feel crummy due to my allergies, that my MS symptoms seem to flare. There are two sides to the argument: one suggests no relationship between MS and allergies, the other suggests that a key immune response to allergies, histamine, may play a role in multiple sclerosis. Until they are able to figure it out, I’m still not going to stop and smell the roses. Hopefully with science and research, one day I will be able to.

Resources:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20456246
http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/267004/histamine
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110131133317.htm
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23659456

*Matt Cavallo was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2005. Matt is an MS blogger, author, patient advocate, and motivational speaker. Matt also has his Master’s degree in Public Health Administration. Matt is the proud father of his two sons, loving husband to his wife, Jocelyn, and best friend to his dog, Teddy. Originally from the Boston suburbs, Matt currently resides in Arizona with his family. To learn more about Matt, please visit him at : http://mattcavallo.com/blog/

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Reducing Internal Stressors and the “and, AND, AND” Mentality

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Stress is something that everyone confronts in their lives. Stress broadly falls into two categories – external stressors where another person or entity is pushing you harder and asking for more, more, more (more of your time, more of energy both physical and mental, and more than you can handle). I think everyone is familiar with the external stressors- a school deadline, a boss that keeps piling more on your plate, appointments and activities you need to get to…these can all add external stress.

The other lesser acknowledged form of stress stems from internal pressures. Internal stress arises when you place restrictions, parameters, and deadlines on yourself, where you strive harder and work longer and try to be “perfect” or to be everything you think you can and should be for everyone and more.

I’ll give you an example. The schedule says you work from 8-5 and get an hour for lunch, that is the schedule you are paid for BUT the phone is ringing, and a new project is assigned, and the work is piling up (external stressors) so your internal response is to come in a little early and only take 20 minutes for your lunch breaks and maybe on some days you stay a little later too. Before you know it you are working 5-10 additional hours each week. Sure you are getting the work done but you aren’t being compensated extra, and everyone else is taking their lunch breaks.

Sometimes people use internal stressors because they are motivated by something specific (i.e. if my boss sees me accomplishing so much maybe I can earn the promotion, and some day make it to the corner office) or maybe you love your job and are motivated by what you think you can accomplish (i.e. I’m saving the world one day and one life at a time, GO ME!) but whatever the reason at some point those additional self-imposed stressors will catch up to you. And frankly at the end of the day while your boss might acknowledge all of your hard work it is just as likely that they will raise their expectations of you, so that without a big promotion you are stuck doing all the extra work and if you try to cut back on the “extras” your boss may wonder why you can’t accomplish what you used to!

These internal stressors don’t just apply to the workplace, they may cause anxiety over what you need to do-“I’ve got to clean the house before Janice comes over to visit, but when will I have the time and energy.” If Janice is truly a friend she will understand that life got in the way and that your house can’t always be impeccable. Don’t worry, Janice already knows that you are human.

You may be asking why is it important to acknowledge when a stressor is internal or self-imposed and try to reduce those actions or thought patterns. Stress is well known to impact health. Stress has been attributed to developing or exacerbating changes in mood such as increasing worry/anxiety, but stress has also been linked to physical health including affects to sleep, cognition, and increasing levels of burnout/fatigue. On the more severe end of the spectrum, stress has been linked to heart attacks, ulcers, and has also been correlated with MS Relapses among other health issues. So, while you may not be able to stop your boss from dumping 500 projects on your desk or keep your house in a perpetually spotless state, you can put in place an internal protection system: Remind yourself that there will always be work for tomorrow no matter how much work you do today, and that friends, family, and neighbors don’t expect you to be “perfect.” Finally, let yourself know that it is okay to ask for help when you need it. Don’t be your own worst enemy, prioritize your health and try your best to stop or reduce that internal voice saying and, AND, AND.

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So Long March…

It’s time to say farewell to another month in the calendar year, and for most around the country, a hopeful farewell to the end of winter. It’s been a harsh season for most of the US, so with the end of March we welcome a warmer, though often rain consumed month of April. As we embark upon the end of this busy month, it also marks the end of Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month, though only formally on the calendar. MS Awareness has the ability to continue the whole year round, and though its promotion in the month of March draws to a close, the MS community can continue raising awareness for the disease throughout the year. Continuing to increase education, advocacy and support for those with MS are some of the goals the community continuously strives for. So while the month of March comes to a close, it brings with it the opportunity to enter a new phase of the year with the same objective: to increase awareness of MS.

March MS Awareness Month calendar Graphic

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Announcing MSAA’s New Online Aquatic Center

Online Aquatic Center

MSAA is pleased to unveil the Swim for MS online Aquatic Center at SwimForMS.org – an exciting new resource for individuals with MS and healthcare professionals.

Swimming and other forms of water-based exercise have well-established health benefits for many fitness levels. For people diagnosed with MS, the cooling and buoyant properties of water can create an ideal exercise environment allowing for movements that may not be possible on land, while keeping them from overheating. Research suggests that the benefits of water-based exercise for individuals with MS include improved flexibility, muscle strength, mobility function, psychological well-being, and overall quality of life.

The Swim for MS online Aquatic Center features resources developed to help you learn more about aquatic exercise, including the following sections:

• About Aquatic Exercise and MS – Comprehensive information about the benefits of aquatic exercise and how water-based activities can be adapted to fit all levels of ability Tip Sheetand types of MS
• Aquatic Resources – Tips and suggestions on how to begin an aquatic exercise program and where to find a pool in your area
• Multimedia Center – Inspirational videos of people living with MS who incorporate swimming and aquatic classes into their healthy lifestyle plan
• For Healthcare Professionals – Research findings and supportive information on aquatic exercise and MS for neurologists, physical therapists, rehab specialists, and aquatic fitness instructors

To learn more about aquatic exercise and MS, please visit our new online Aquatic Center at SwimForMS.org!

The Swim for MS online Aquatic Center has been developed through a collaborative sponsorship with Genzyme, a Sanofi company.

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An Adventure of a Lifetime

Pete snowmobile 2

Breathtaking, serene, and majestic are just some of the many words which come to mind when describing my incredible three-day journey into the wilds of Wyoming and Montana during the 2014 Wyoming/Yellowstone Charity Snowmobile Ride. Sponsored by the Cody Optimist Club and supported by Teva Pharmaceuticals, this year’s 16th annual ride was a huge success raising nearly $50,000 to help support MSAA’s programs and services.
Pete bison

I was honored to represent MSAA and attend this year’s event, which occurred over Super Bowl weekend. It was, without a doubt, one of the most remarkable experiences of my life. As a first-time snowmobile rider and flat-lander from New Jersey, I had to quickly adjust to altitudes of more than 8,000 feet, learn to operate a 550 cc “sled,” and maneuver through some pretty challenging mountainous terrain.

In taking on this new adventure I did my best to maintain pace with the pack, but admittedly went slow and cautious through the hairpin curves. This strategy helped keep me alive (a Pete snowmobilemajor concern of my wife) but also generated some good natured ribbing from the seasoned veterans and a few crazy rookies! I also managed to get my sled stuck in a snowbank. As a result, I earned the coveted “bone” award, which I accepted with considerable pride.

With each day’s passage I was not only struck by the remarkable beauty of the surrounding landscape, but also by the heart-warming beauty of everyone connected to this ride. Led by ride organizer Ed Livingston, the Cody Optimist Club, representatives from Teva and the entire team of dedicated riders all come together once a year to relive fond memories, create new adventures and, most importantly, help improve the lives of people with MS and their families. On behalf of myself and MSAA, I want to express my sincere appreciation and deepest gratitude to everyone associated with the Wyoming/Yellowstone Charity Snowmobile Ride for providing 16 years of unbelievable support and dedication to the MS cause and for giving this Jersey boy the adventure of a lifetime!

MSAA’s Vice President of Programs and Services Peter Damiri has been with the organization for almost 25 years and worked as the director of public relations before moving to MSAA’s programs and services department. He oversees MSAA’s existing programs and services, as well as any new program initiatives. He is also involved with many other aspects of patient education, including coordinating and managing the production of MSAA’s online educational videos and webinars. Mr. Damiri has a bachelor’s degree in communications.

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Welcoming Spring with New Activities for the MS Community

March 20th marks the first day of spring, and for many, you can start to see and feel the
signs that summer is approaching. The days become longer, the air becomes warmer, and the plants begin to grow again. I personally am looking forward to the evenings on the porch after work. – sitting with my feet up, just watching as the neighbors stroll by. The neighborhood becomes active again, with people stopping to say ‘hello’ instead of running inside to beat the cold. Wildlife starts to show their furry faces, popping by the porch to grab some treats.

Over this harsh New Jersey winter, I began to create a list of things that I wished to accomplish once the weather became milder. I welcomed 2014 as the year to try something new, and have pushed off many of these new things until now. Cabin fever has gotten a hold of me and I can’t wait to get out! I plan to become more active, but not in a physical sense. I want to spend more quality time with people and enjoy just being present in the moment. Taking the time to fully invest myself in a task with a friend, without thinking about the thousands of other things I need to do, or rushing off to the next event.Spring email sign-up_edit

With the nice weather, you may also wish to be more active, perhaps joining an MS group,
or attending an educational MS event in your area. MSAA provides free local MS events throughout the country where you can learn about a certain topic, often presented by an MS specialist. The Calendar of Events on our webpage provides information on the type and location of these events. Events are continually being added every day. If you register with MSAA, you can receive information via e-mail or regular mail when an event is coming to your area. Registration is available on our webpage, or, you can reach out to our helpline at 1-800-532-7667 ext. 154 and a helpline consultant will be happy to take your information.

So what do you look forward to most in the spring? Do you have any plans or things you would like to try?

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If you need health insurance…

Don’t forget that Open Enrollment for purchasing health insurance through the new Health Insurance Marketplace ends this year on March 31st. 

If you need health insurance_blog

If you need health insurance and have not already visited the website www.healthcare.gov or called an Insurance Navigator at (800) 318-2596, do it now! Give yourself time to make an informed decision about the best options for you. Five million Americans have already enrolled.

Remember, once the 2014 Open Enrollment period closes, you will not be able to purchase insurance until 2015 Open Enrollment begins, unless you have a qualifying life event (such as the loss of a job or the birth of a new baby). 

Need more information? You can also review MSAA’s website for important information about how the ACA impacts you.

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