When the MS Foundation asked me to put together my best tips to prevent overheating with MS, I gave them advice that you can take on the hottest of days. A version of this article appeared in their Summer 2019 edition of MS Focus magazine.
Cooling items were donated for testing purposes.
When temperatures hit the high 90s, MSers tend to scurry into air-conditioning (at least as fast as overheated MSers can scurry), muttering how this summer—just like last summer and the summer before that one—they finally will pick up and move to North Dakota to escape the sweltering months once and for all. And then a friend with a smart phone will dash those fantasies, informing the dreamers that North Dakota’s all-time record high is 121 degrees. Gulp.
Meanwhile, I put on a bike helmet and go for a bike ride. In the middle of the day. When it’s in the upper 90s. And yes, I have multiple sclerosis along with heat sensitivity. But I have an unfair edge. As the former editor and owner of a popular car magazine, I’ve taken those testing skills and applied them to MS aids, rigorously putting gear through the proper paces. And I’ve tested nothing as thoroughly as cooling vests: More than 20 vests, years of testing, over 10,000 words and counting.
These are my best hacks for chilling out with multiple sclerosis when temperatures rise. And remember, heat does not actually make MS worse, but it can make you feel temporarily hella crummy. So let’s see if we can minimize that.
Choose the right cooling vest. There isn’t one “perfect” cooling vest. The best one for you is one you’ll actually wear. While max cooling power sounds great on paper, it isn’t so great in practice as those vests tend to be heavy and cumbersome. My two favorites: the vests from Thermapparel (available as part of the MSF Cooling Program) and the unusual no-refrigeration-needed vest from First Line Technology. I highly recommend you refer to our exhaustive cooling vest guide.
Other cooling gear. There are other convenient ways to chill your body in addition to cooling vests. Wrap Me Cool makes sheer cooling wraps that refresh. Another little joy is one we discovered from Glacier Tek: the Glacier Pad. It keeps the tush cool for a couple hours and is surprisingly comfy.
Precool and post-cool. Put on a cooling vest or other cooling aids fifteen minutes before your activity. Even smarter: drink something icy or slushy, before, during, and after as well—it can up exercise output by up to 30%. Research also has found that taking aspirin before exercise may help tame rising body temps in MSers, but talk to your doctor as regular aspirin use can be problematic. And cooling after your outdoor adventures can help alleviate heat-induced MS symptoms quicker.
Do activities in “pulses.” This is particularly effective when exercising, which revs up internal body temperatures. Instead of cranking for 30 consecutive minutes, break it up, allowing your body to cool in between intervals of hard exercise. The health benefit is the same. Of course sometimes this isn’t practical, like watching a little league baseball game on a steamy Saturday afternoon, but escaping to the car for a quick blast of A/C is a nice refresher.
Watch your time of day. Early mornings or early evenings are a great time to get outdoors as the sun and heat are less intense. Shade helps at other times. A sun-protective umbrella can assist with those mid-day rays, shaving off a few degrees more than a standard umbrella. (And yes, I’ve reviewed those, too.)
Get into air-conditioning. Let’s face it, some days are just too dang hot and humid to be outdoors for any length of time. Use your brain cells wisely and hit a climate-controlled gym or a movie theater until Mother Nature cooperates.
Most of us MSers can relate to when Frosty the Snowman got locked in a greenhouse and melted into a puddle. But what you might not know is that after exhaustive analysis from a colossally bored engineer, it was calculated that it would have taken Frosty several hours longer to perish than it was depicted in the cartoon after taking into account his snow mass and the amount of BTUs required to render him into liquid H2O. This is a valuable lesson for MSers. With proper precautions, you’ll last longer in the heat, too. And if you do blow yourself up, rest assured that like Frosty, you’ll rise again.