Low energy and severe fatigue are common symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS). Too often this type of fatigue can be a lot more serious than just feeling tired or worn out. Living with MS with unpredictable energy levels can feel like depending on a rechargeable battery that never gets fully recharged, no matter how long you leave it on the charging base. And you never know when it’s going to run out.
Finding ways to extend the length of that battery charge or ways to boost energy are important for maximizing daily functioning and quality of life.
I asked members of the MS community to share their top tips for boosting energy. Here are their recommendations:
Drink More Water
The most frequently suggested strategy to boost energy when living with MS is to drink lots of water. This is my personal top tip as well. Your body is composed primarily of water, and fatigue can be a sign of dehydration. If you feel thirsty, you’re probably already dehydrated.
It might sound funny, but I think of my brain as a plump, supple body of buoyant tissue that happily floats around a lake in my head. When I begin to feel sluggish, it’s like my head is suffering a drought and is in need of some serious rainfall to clear the debris. So I reach for some refreshing water to wash the sludge away.
Enjoy Your Caffeine
Second to water, coffee was the most common beverage suggestion made by members of the MS community. Coffee is a popular way to consume caffeine. My neurologist has suggested drinking coffee to help reduce fatigue and cog fog. I didn’t believe him at first, but now I’m a convert. Coffee helps to boost my alertness during the day and doesn’t seem to keep me up at night. I know that it doesn’t work for everyone, but I find it helpful and tasty.
Jackie Z. shared a related caffeine-based strategy that she acknowledges may be less popular among members of the MS community. She uses energy drinks for the extra boost they provide when she needs “to be with it.”
She says she doesn’t experience a caffeine surge, but instead just feels level without a crash later on. I’ve never tried these and would suggest that if you are interested in doing so, talk to your doctor first to see if they might be a good option for you.
The second most frequently suggested strategy to boost energy is exercise. It sounds counterintuitive that exercising — which requires that you spend energy — will actually help you to increase energy.
Jodi D. shared that “even though it is hard when I have no energy, even a short walk helps me feel less sluggish!”
I believe that there are two elements in play here. Exercise helps to reverse or prevent physical deconditioning. Muscles that become weaker with disuse take a lot more energy to get fired up and function properly. Exercise also helps to keep muscles and joints flexible. A body that is limber requires less energy to move.
Yoga was suggested as a favorite form of exercise to help boost energy, as was working with a physical therapist.
Meditation is often associated with relaxation and its calming effects. But for Deb W., meditation is a great way to reduce the kind of stress that makes her just want to stay on the couch. Deb says, “If I meditate and clear my mind, I feel refreshed and have a little more zip in my step.”
Although it “goes without saying” that eating healthy is good for you, it should be said often that healthy eating is good for you! Two members of the community specifically mentioned that they choose to eat small amounts of protein throughout the day to maintain energy levels and protect against fatigue.
Since I stopped eating sugar, I realize how important it is to consume healthy fats, such as those found in avocados and nuts. Kathy Y. also uses medium-chain triglyceride MCT oil to reduce her fatigue. Consuming small amounts of MCT oil is a common strategy employed by those eating a ketogenic diet because MCT oil can be converted into ketones, a source of energy for the body.
Supplement as Necessary
Consuming all the vitamins and minerals your body needs is a wonderful ideal to strive for, but sometimes our bodies and diets can be deficient, and supplementation is recommended. Supplements are never a one-size-fits-all proposition, so talk to your doctor to determine what you personally might need. At least one community member also mentioned using essential oils to boost her energy levels, particularly peppermint oil, and another member uses myetin. I personally supplement with vitamin D, folic acid, and magnesium daily to satisfy my body’s specific needs.
A number of MS community members recommend energy management techniques to keep them going stronger for longer.
Corrie S. will set a time limit on how long she will be active without stopping for a rest.
“Two hours seems to be my max limit for good days, so I tend to break up my day in two-hour intervals," she says. "Regardless of whether or not I am finished doing what I planned, after two hours, I take a break and see if I feel like continuing or not after my break is finished.”
Almost any list of tips to boost energy will include a suggestion to get enough restful sleep. However, I found it interesting that only one person I asked mentioned that they make sure to get eight hours of sleep each night as a way to fight fatigue and boost energy. Maybe since MS can impair your ability to sleep well, getting enough sleep seems to be more of a problem to solve than a solution to boosting energy levels. Either way you look at it, sleep is important and if you have difficulty sleeping, talk to your neurologist and/or primary care physician.