Strategies for keeping your brain healthy

In MS, the body’s immune system attacks and damages the brain, spinal cord and optic nerve. This damage can cause physical disability, fatigue and cognitive problems such as concentration, memory and learning difficulties.

The good news is that the brain is very good at being able to adapt. In MS, when an area of the brain is damaged, it can use other parts of the brain to compensate.1 This ability of the brain to adapt is known as neurological reserve, and the more neurological reserve the brain has, the healthier it is.1

Sometimes the brain will be using up its neurological reserve without you knowing, as it compensates for lesions that don’t cause noticeable symptoms.1 If a brain uses up all of its neurological reserve, it can’t recruit new areas of the brain and the symptoms of MS are more likely to progress.1

It is therefore important to keep your brain as healthy as possible. The best ways to do this are:1


icon_tickKeep as active as you can – The fitter you are, the faster your brain can process information and the more brain tissue is preserved
icon_tickKeep your weight under control – People who are obese tend to have more brain lesions compared to people who are a healthy weight 
icon_tickKeep your mind active – Protect against cognitive problems by keeping your brain active through education, reading, hobbies and artistic or creative pastimes


icon_tickAvoid smoking – Compared to people with MS who do not smoke, those who do smoke tend to have a smaller brain volume, relapse more often, have more disability, have more cognitive problems and don’t live as long
icon_tickWatch how much you drink – People with MS who drink unsafe amounts of alcohol tend not to live as long as people with MS who consume safe amounts of alcohol
icon_tickContinue taking other medicines your doctor has prescribed – There are some other conditions that can make your MS worse, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. It is therefore important to take any medications your doctor has prescribed for other conditions


  • MS Australia. Brain health in multiple sclerosis. (last updated 21 June 2019).