The Importance of Movement

It’s fall, which means colder weather makes it difficult to get moving to either exercise outside or make it to the gym. Perhaps because of the season, it is more important than ever to keep moving. As we head into winter, chances of weight gain increase along with seasonal mood changes that might be mitigated with some form of exercise.

Yesterday, researchers released a study regarding the importance of exercise and health. It’s something I’ve known a long time from health class and personal experience: exercising makes me feel better. If I sit still long enough (even in the span of a few hours), I start feeling bad.

That was the point of this study: the longer we sit during the day, the more danger we put on our health in the long-term. Sitting for vast spans of time and maintaining a sedentary lifestyle is worse than smoking. This study wasn’t providing new information, this article from 2014 discusses how dangerous sitting for hours on end is for our bodies. But this study was another confirmation of what researchers were saying: movement is important for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

While the studies weren’t talking about the emotional impact of a sedentary lifestyle, more of the long-term impact, aerobic exercise is a form of anti-depressant for those suffering from major depression. A person should never quit their drug-regimen in favor of running without consulting their healthcare professionals first, but adding running or some other high-aerobic workout to the routine might increase the anti-depressant impact for mental health management.

This information is great to have to make informed decisions without an autoimmune disease that impacts fatigue levels, but living with MS, getting out of bed can be a hardship some mornings.

What to do when your body works against you?

I count myself lucky with my MS: my disease is rather benign and easy to manage compared to someone with PPMS, SPMS, or even some versions of RRMS. But it can cause my mood to swing, my depression to kick into high gear, and send my fatigue into overdrive for no reason other than “just because.”

Getting out of bed to go for a run some mornings is particularly rough when my body just does not want to move. Additionally, I’ve suffered from being overweight and depressed, so I understand how each individual factor can impact personal motivation and ability.

So what can you do?

  1. Speak with a trusted healthcare professional about what you can do to increase movement in relation to your particular health concerns or limitations. You want to find an expert who will be sensitive to your situation to provide positive encouragement, but also one who will point you in an appropriate direction for the types of exercises needed to get you started.
  2. Even if your doctor is providing you with generic information, use that information as a starting point with your own research.* Find simple exercises you can do from bed or the couch while watching television. From there, you can build up your type of exercise and the amount of time spent.
  3. Drink water. Water helps energize muscles to help prevent fatigue, protect joints and the nervous system (a huge plus for MS), and decrease MS symptoms.
  4. Keep your goals reachable and manageable. If you know that getting out of bed will be difficult most mornings, see about adding a different type of exercise that can be done from bed until you have a good day.
  5. If you have to miss a day or forget, just plan to restart tomorrow. Don’t look at a day off as a failure, but just something that happens. Try to maintain an attitude of moving forward rather than dwelling on forgetfulness. Don’t overdo it if you do miss a day – with MS that can set you back from exercising tomorrow.

*Note: your own research must be done with extreme caution and consideration to your ability levels. Do not put yourself at risk.  Read my disclaimer about health advice here.

Lack of Motivation

I find that the lack of motivation is my biggest obstacle to exercising. I wish I could write, “do this and you’ll always be motivated!” but the truth of the motivation obstacle is this: it varies from person-to-person and moment-to-moment. What keeps me motivated may not apply to another person and what keeps them motivated would never work for me.

When dealing with a chronic illness, motivation can run thin, sometimes without being the individual’s fault, but because of the way the illness impacts brain function. Having physical impairments stacked against you can be depressing on its own.

So how to combat this?

It’s never going to be a “snap your fingers and get over it” solution. That is not possible and won’t work. Rather, figure out what is important to you at the moment. Is it disease management? Depression management? Having more energy day-to-day? Wanting to see the numbers go down on the scale? Figuring out that primary starting place may be enough to get the ball rolling and sometimes that’s all it takes.

Having reports released about the importance of exercise are validating for me on my health journey because it shows that I am on the right path, especially on days when my energy and motivation are at its lowest. I just have to move forward and try not to be discouraged by a bad day or my MS.

What prevents you from exercising? What keeps you motivated to exercise? Relate your stories below in the comments section.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton


Fall Festival Fun

Depending on where you live, festivals are happening throughout the year. Living in the South, we tend to only have major festivals in the spring and fall when the weather is optimal. Because fall in the South is vastly different from what I grew up with, I’ve come to rely on the fall festivals to be a vehicle to “feeling” the fall season.

A lot of that stems from childhood activities during the fall and the mother of all fall festivals.

My Love for Fall Festivals

Growing up in New England, every year around this time is a massive fall festival that highlights all the New England states. Centrally located, going to this festival was a highlight of my childhood. For many children, myself included, it meant skipping a day of school in favor of going because the weekends were always too crowded.

This festival takes place on massive fairgrounds with several exhibition halls filled to the brim with vendors, displays, competitions, food, and informational exhibits. A crowd favorite? A butter sculpture that changes from year-to-year. They also have different buildings that highlighted everything each New England State produces or grows.

It was at this festival I learned about a new thing called “the information superhighway,” or the “World Wide Web.” They had an exhibit explaining what this new-fangled, recently released to the public in a more open capacity (it was limited until that point). I was more interested in the coloring book and stickers I got after going through the exhibit than what it had to tell me about “the internet.” Oh, if only I knew.

They also had a sizable midway and barns filled with various livestock for show and sales. In high school, I attended most years either as a volunteer for the agricultural display where we made free bows for fairgoers or as part of a competition. Never won anything significant, but it was always a fun excuse to skip school legitimately.

Unfortunately, there is nothing comparable in the South, at least nothing I’ve found. I do have plans to bring Jai up when he’s older so he can experience the same excitement I had for this festival as a kid.

Fun & Cheap (even Free!)

Another reason why I love fall festivals is their price. A favorite one we attend every year is only $10 for the public to attend, but free for members. Once inside, goers are able to view various points-of-interest, participate in fun activities for children, watch dancers showing off, listen to music and walk through both food and trinket vendors.

Other festivals near where we live are free to attend, which can also include free demonstrations and live music that always appeal to fascinated toddlers. There is never a requirement to spend money at these festivals, which both Ash and I love, though we try to support local artisans when the price is reasonable.

Suggestions for Attending (especially in hotter climates)

Some tricks that I’ve gathered from attending festivals all these years

  • Bring a sizable and easy to carry a water bottle. Water can get expensive but is necessary to have when dealing with hot weather and walking around.
  • Limit alcohol consumption (even if it’s a wine/beer festival). If it’s a particularly hot day, drinking too much will quickly dehydrate you. If you must drink, consider matching each cup/glass with an equivalent amount of water.
  • Hats, sunscreen – the works for sun protection. Some locations may not have shade and where they do you may end up fighting others for space.
  • Bring layers, comfortable shoes, and check the weather. While in the South, wearing shorts and tee-shirts might be the standard uniform for most days, there are the occasional cooler days where having a sweatshirt for part of it might be ideal. Comfortable shoes are also a must as most of your activity will be walking up to a mile.
  • If allowed, bring in a picnic lunch to help save money and stick to a healthy eating plan. Festivals always have tempting terrible foods that are deep-fried, but if you are trying to eat healthily, it can be discouraging to see and smell the foods you want to try but know you shouldn’t. Bring the main parts of your lunch if you can and then treat yourself after you’ve eaten to a festival dish. That way you are already full and will eat less and only limiting yourself to one unhealthy item versus a meal’s worth.
  • For those with children:
    • No matter the age, an extra set of clothes (especially bathing suit & towel) and shoes. Some places have previously unknown water/pool offerings and nothing is more discouraging to a kid than saying “no” because you are unprepared.
    • Bring cash because some festivals have play areas to burn off energy that might only accept cash.
    • If bringing a lot of stuff and you have one, consider bringing a heftier stroller versus the simple umbrella stroller. Strollers are great for carrying food, extra clothing, etc. If your little one is too old for a stroller, consider a collapsible wagon. Some are highly rated and can carry up to 150 lbs (which will be useful when little ones outgrow that).
  • For those with MS or illnesses affected by the heat:
    • Bring a cooling towel of some sort that you can re-wet frequently to help keep you cool.
    • A portable chair that can function as a cane while walking around. Getting down on the ground can be difficult and more difficult to get up.
    • Check, if you can, for motorized access if you use a scooter. Most festivals have to be ADA compliant, but one of the ones near where we live has very narrow walking paths between the vendor tents which can make it frustrating for those in a scooter.

What are some of your favorite fall festivals that you attend? Do you have any fun childhood memories of fairs? Share your experiences in the comments below.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton


Autumnal Love

Fall is my favorite season.

I love the crispness in the air, the smell of leaves on the ground, and the cooler weather that requires sweaters and a hot cup of pumpkin spice latte. That is before I moved South. I get none of these fall favorites until late November and even then if I am lucky.

I can’t complain because I am able to sit on a restaurant patio well into November with my flip-flops and that’s something I could never do in New England.

Living down South redefined fall for me. I still love it because the weather is more temperate, but it also means that I have to find new ways to appreciate the fall that are different from what I did up North.

Autumnal Love & Appreciation Month

For this month, I will be discussing some of my favorite fall activities: festivals, pumpkin patches, and Halloween celebrations. I will also reflect on how fall is the best month for those of us with MS, some easy exercises to stay active, and how to prepare for the holiday season glut of food.

As I mentioned yesterday, we’re moving to twice-a-week posting schedule for the rest of the year, but hopefully, maintain the same quality posts that you enjoy.

Before I finish out this post – leave a comment with your favorite fall activity or favorite part of the fall season. If you hate fall, let us know why! I always love to hear differing opinions.


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Featured photo credit: Michelle Melton


Have a Healthy Summer

For most of my adulthood at the beginning of each year, I fell into the mental trap of “getting healthy and in shape for the summer.” I wanted to have that perfect beach body, even if we never made it to the beach, and feel comfortable wearing cute summer outfits.

I never succeeded.

Life would get in the way, I would get distracted or frustrated with my diet and exercise and so I would enter summer either at the same weight I was at the beginning of the year or a little bit heavier.

Since I made significant lifestyle changes and stuck with them, I have found that I am finally entering the summer the way I always wanted to: beach ready and several cute outfits.

Still no available beach and rarely do I get out of my “mom uniform” because cute outfits and a toddler do not mix.

But I am experiencing something I’ve never before: staying fitness-minded and motivated in the heat. As I discussed on Monday, having MS and living in a hot and humid climate is not a good combination. I am finding that my motivation and my ability to stay fitness-focused is waning more than it did in the cold winter months.

What do I do? Well, I have to make some adjustments to accommodate this unforeseen speed bump.

Healthy Choices

The main thing I’ve learned is that my choices had to change in the summer months. This can range from the food I eat to the time of day I exercise to the intensity of the exercise I commit myself to complete.

If there is a day where I know I won’t be able to exercise for a while due to the heat, I have to adjust my eating to reflect that. Rather than eating heavier or caloric-dense meals, I adjust to more frequent and lighter meals throughout the day.

If we expect a high heat day or extreme humidity, then I will make sure to get out earlier in the morning to avoid dealing with either. 6:30am is usually a great time to get out, beat the heat and the traffic, and be home in time to say “good-bye” to Ash before he heads to work.

If it’s too hot or humid out to exercise, then I move any sort of workout indoors with the A/C blasting or a fan on me if I need to do something with intensity. I also need to make sure that keep drinking water throughout the day.

The hardest choice to adjust is the first one: I love to eat. So if I am having a craving for something particularly heavy, potatoes of some sort, I want to indulge it. I try to find ways to compromise or satisfy the craving with something else. Popcorn works best, but a cool piece of fruit will do in a pinch.

Remembering to drink enough water can also be a problem for me – so by carrying around a water bottle or cup can help remind me to stay hydrated. I need to keep drinking water if I am going to keep exercising throughout the hotter months.

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A Berry Picking Time

Another favorite outdoor activity I had growing up, besides camping? Berry picking.

Every late-spring my mom would take me berry picking at the local farms. We tried to do two trips a year: strawberries and some other local fruit (blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, or apples). Living in New England meant shorter picking seasons so we could miss a specific harvest by a week depending on how well the fruit developed.

This meant my mom would announce one morning that she’d be heading to the farm in a few days and ask if I’d be willing to help her. When I was younger, I had little choice in the matter but I loved it anyway; and when I was older it would depend on my work schedule for the week.

I found on the days I had to work or go to school and miss helping her were always disappointing. She’d try to adjust her schedule to accommodate me, but sometimes the weather and harvest wouldn’t cooperate.

Our Family Traditions

Strawberries were a must in our family.

If we could only do one picking a year it was strawberries. We had a rhubarb plant growing in our backyard so my dad always requested a strawberry rhubarb pie every summer. My mother never believed in doing anything half-measure so she would make sure to bake him a pie with only the freshest ingredients: rhubarb and strawberries she picked herself.

With the haul, she would preserve a batch of strawberries in syrup. My mom would freeze this mixture and thaw it for Christmas morning every year. Our favorite traditional Christmas meal, besides the evening feast, was homemade scones, clotted cream, and those syrupy strawberries picked earlier in the year.

There was something wonderful in knowing that I helped make Christmas breakfast a little more special by helping pick those berries. During the cold, dark New England months it brought a little bit of spring sunshine for the day.

Another fun tradition that started while strawberry picking was the story about a mouse visiting his relatives whenever we picked. No matter the farm and no matter the location (I happen to know he’s moved down South), my mom and I would create this elaborate story about his adventures over the past year and all the fun he was having while visiting.

It was one of those fun traditions that started one day when my mom spotted a mouse in the patch we were picking in. I think she started talking about it to make sure I wasn’t startled or to keep herself from being startled, so a story began about why he was there. Our stories grew over the years, though we’ve never physically seen him again.

berrypicking

Jai helping pick strawberries this year. Photo credit: Michelle Melton Photography

Like all my favorite traditions and childhood memories, I’ve wanted to share them with Jai in some small way. I didn’t even wait for him to be born before I took him berry picking: I was between 5 to 7 months pregnant when I went picking for strawberries, peaches, and blueberries.

Last year, we took him peach and blueberry picking while he was in my carrier. This year we’ve gone strawberry and peach picking so far (blueberries are around the corner). Because peaches are on a tree, it was easier for him to physically help this year, though he may have grabbed several under-ripe ones for Ash, who’s a fan.

Jai is a blueberry lover,  and the farm we go to has such tall bushes that he’ll be able to help me again, so I know most of the fruit he picks will be put straight into his mouth and squished into my shirt. I have accepted and plan to be prepared for it.

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