On Saturday, November 22, 1997, the University of Michigan football team concluded its regular season with a historic win that secured their first perfect regular season since 1971 and drew a record crowd of 106,982 to Michigan Stadium.
Jennifer, a lifelong fan who religiously attended every single Michigan home game, was not there.
Eight days earlier, she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and her newly acquired neurologist advised against going to the game and sitting outside in the cold.
“Are you serious?” she remembers asking the doctor, who had just told her to ignore her true fandom faith.
He assured her that he couldn’t be more serious. It was at that moment Jennifer realized MS was something that was going to have a serious impact on her life from there on out.
Sensitivity to heat is one of the biggest symptoms people talk about when living with MS. But in fact, we all need to be just as mindful of how cold temperatures can impact our MS symptoms as well. For example, spasticity is often made worse by cold weather, which can cause discomfort, fatigue, and difficulty walking.
Jennifer sat out that one game, but she wasn’t going to let MS force her to sit out her entire life when temperatures plummet below freezing in Michigan.
Living with MS through a combined total of more than 40 winters, we’ve seen how mid-winter weather can intensify our MS-related challenges, and we’ve discovered some creative and common-sense ways to navigate this season’s frigid weather.
Here are some of our preventive and reactive tips that help us deal with symptom flares and stay in the game of life when the weather gets cold.
Never underestimate the value of a scarf, hat, or extra pair of socks — even indoors
It’s easier to keep yourself warm than it is to warm up after you get chilled. Sure, sweaters, sweatshirts, and long underwear are standard pieces of clothing people turn to when dressing warmly. But a lot of times, it’s the accessories that keep us toasty outside and inside the house — especially for your extremities.
Dan knows freezing temperatures make his MS-numbed fingers essentially useless without gloves to keep them warm. He’s also found it helps to have a few disposable pocket-sized hand warmers, well… handy.
Jennifer swears by a scarf as one of her most useful winter accessories, and often wears one while watching TV or reading a book. A good hoodie also provides a nice layer of insulation. The convenient feature of these extras is they’re simple to remove if you start to get too warm.
Believe in the power of a warm breakfast or beverage
Whether you’re walking or wheeling, dealing with freezing temperatures and snow is tough when you have MS. Starting the day out with a hot breakfast cereal such as oatmeal can warm your insides before you brave the cold.
A hot cup of coffee, tea, soup, or cocoa can also help throughout the day — but be mindful of the amount of fluids you’re drinking each day, especially if your MS affects your bladder control.
Do what you can to stay healthy
Just as you may take medications and other preventive measures to fight your MS, do all that you can to maintain your overall health. This is important year-round, but especially so during cold and flu season. These viral illnesses can intensify and exaggerate your MS symptoms to the point that you might feel like you’ve been run over by a truck — they may even cause an attack.
This is why it’s important to heed common sense advice like getting plenty of rest, frequently washing your hands, managing stress, and doing your best to avoid people you know are sick. If you do get sick, talk with your doctor right away to treat it quickly.
Be flexible with your plans
For as much as MS is an unpredictable disease, the same can be said about winter weather. Talk about a double-whammy!
Stay on top of MS and your symptoms by keeping your eyes on the weather forecast. Know when temperatures are going to drop and when snow is going to come. This can help you avoid taking on treacherous road conditions and risking injuries walking on slippery surfaces.
Also try to avoid early morning activities before the snowplows have a chance to clear the roads.
Colder temperatures have the potential to keep you inside, but don’t let them keep you from moving. Whether it’s simple stretching, lifting weights, or a home workout, this type of movement can help to boost your circulation, keep you warm, and alleviate tense spastic muscles.
We’ve found that staying active — even if that just means doing things around the house or going for a short walk — helps to boost our moods and alleviate the winter blahs.