Living with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a daily challenge. As the motor neurons degenerate, the patient progressively loses the ability to move freely. However, exercise is proven to increase strength and mobility for ALS patients and reduce the risk of depression. It is important though exercise only according to the advice of a healthcare professional. Here is a quick guide to the benefits of exercise for ALS patients:

Understanding Motor Neuron Disease

Motor Neuron Disease is a group of neurodegenerative disorders that selectively affect motor neurons, i.e. the cells that control all the voluntary muscles of the body. These voluntary muscles are responsible for performing movements at one’s will.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, causes muscles all over the body to degenerate progressively — leading to an inability to move, speak, or swallow.

How exercise can benefit patients with ALS

Exercise has been recognized as a useful complement to medical treatment and other forms of therapy such as Stem Cell Therapy, Physiotherapy, Occupational Therapy, and Speech Therapy for those living with ALS. It improves joint function and retains muscle strength in patients at different stages of the disease. As a consequence of the increased strength and easing of symptoms, exercise can also improve the patient’s mental health and quality of life.

The goal of exercise for ALS patients should be slowing muscular atrophy, improving posture, and reducing joint immobility. Low-impact aerobic exercise like walking or swimming can improve cardiovascular health, strengthen unaffected muscles, and combat depression and fatigue. In addition, stretching can help increase the range of motion and reduce muscle spasticity.

Tips for exercising safely with ALS

For those with ALS, it is essential to perform all forms of exercises under the close supervision of a rehabilitation professional, specialized in treating degenerative neurological disorders. They can tailor an exercise plan for you as part of the best Motor Neuron Disease treatment and monitor your progress. Here are some pointers to keep in mind:

Start small: Allow your body to get accustomed to the exercises by starting with short sessions of a few minutes each and then ramping it up as you feel stronger.
Perform cardio or aerobics: Walking, cycling, or other aerobic exercises performed at moderate intensity are ideal for those with ALS.
Break it up into sets: To help you get the most out of your exercise session without overdoing it, break the session up into segments that let you perform optimally with rest in between. For instance, if you are using a recumbent bicycle, you can have a 30-minute session broken up into parts of 10 minutes each.
Don’t forget to stretch: After a workout session, you should stretch your muscles to avoid fatigue and to recover faster.
Listen to your body: It is crucial that you pay attention to what your body needs and not overexert yourself. If you feel unwell during exercise, stop and rest. Do not try to push through fatigue, as that can have negative effects. If you feel cramps or twitches in your muscles, stop exercising at once and consult your therapist.
Consider using assistive gear: In addition to exercise, assistive devices like braces, orthotics, or wheelchairs can also enhance the patient’s mobility. Talk to your doctor about using one of these as needed.

While no exercise can reverse the progression of ALS, doing it regularly can slow your rate of muscle degeneration and improve your overall mobility. Consult your healthcare specialist about how exercise can be incorporated into the best Motor Neuron Disease treatment for you. Listen to what your body is telling you and enjoy the physical and mental gains!