Wellness is a term that has gained increasing popularity in recent years. Wellness generally focuses on physical, psychological and spiritual aspects of one’s life. Wellness is a term described by Ardell in 1977 as “a conscious and deliberate approach to an advanced state of physical and psychological/spiritual health”. The key points in this definition include the facts that it is ‘conscious and deliberate’ and that it is an ‘advanced state’. Traditional medicine generally seeks to avoid or minimize signs, symptoms or disability. This is an important approach, particularly when dealing with a chronic condition such as MS. It is important to treat symptoms such as spasticity, fatigue and bladder dysfunction through medications and non-medication interventions. In addition, it is important to take advantage of disease modifying agents which reduced or slow disability. However, it is only part of the approach that is necessary.
When an individual seeks ‘wellness’ they are attempting to improve overall health and quality of life. Why is this important for people with MS? One of the primary reasons is that MS is not fatal. Therefore, people with MS need to practice good health behaviors in order to decrease secondary conditions such as heart disease, cancer and stroke, the top three killers in the US. A survey of 337 women, done by Stuifbergen in 2001 (1), showed:
The lack of health promotion behaviors, identified in this study, places an individual at greater risk for secondary complications such as heart disease or osteoporosis. In addition, the study showed decreases in reported incapacity for those who practiced health promotion behaviors. Therefore, those who participated in forms of physical activity, stress management and good nutritional habits didn’t feel as ‘disabled’ as those who did not practice these behaviors.
There are many programs available for people with MS to address wellness for people with MS. Can Do Multiple Sclerosis, formerly The Heuga Center for Multiple Sclerosis (www.mscando.org) has been providing innovative lifestyle empowerment programs for people with MS and their support partners for the past 25 years. Local chapters of the National MS Society (www.nmss.org) also offer programs which emphasize physical activity, stress management and education. Local MS clinics also offer education and programs which emphasize many different aspects of overall wellness. The Consortium of MS Centers has a listing of MS clinics in your area; visit www.mscare.org for more information.
More research is being done to determine the benefits of wellness programs and components of wellness for people with MS. The results have demonstrated improvements in physical and psychological health measures.
Good health promoting behaviors require commitment and realistic goal setting. In addition, support from family and friends has been shown to improve adherence to these behaviors. Therefore, seek the advice which will help you with goal setting and look into programs which provide feedback from colleagues, professionals and help you make the commitment to better health.
1. Stuifbergen AK, Becker H, Health Promotion Practices in Women with Multiple Sclerosis: Increasing Quality and Years of Healthy Life. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America Volume 12, Number 1, February 2001. pages 9-21.