Exercise can provide a variety of benefits for people with ALS; for some it can have a significant impact on their quality of life.

Particularly in the earlier stages of ALS, many people have found both physiological and psychological boosts from various types of exercise. Along with helping to combat stress, providing a brief escape and being a welcome way to relax, proper exercise is important for preventing atrophy of muscles from disuse — a key to remaining mobile for as long as possible — and, as long as you’re able to exercise comfortably, for keeping your cardiovascular system strong. The key to gaining these benefits is finding the most appropriate exercise for you.

It’s widely accepted among physicians and therapists that specific kinds of exercise help prevent the development of painful contractures (the permanent tightening of muscles) and can decrease the spasticity (intermittent or constant muscle tightness or spasms) that’s common in ALS. Practicing the healthiest type of exercise for you at each stage of ALS will help maintain your comfort and mobility. 

Stretching and range-of-motion exercises

Any area of weakness in your muscles is prone to tightness or contracture, and muscular tightness can interfere with regular activities and the movement of joints in the neck, hips, arms and legs. Both joint structures and other soft tissues (muscles, tendons and ligaments) become tight with lack of motion. Stretching increases joint mobility and improves or helps to maintain soft tissue extensibility.

All joints in the body need to be stretched. Normal daily activity uses all of the major muscles and joints, but some supplemental stretching may be necessary. If there’s an area of weakness, such as your arms, legs or neck, you’ll need additional stretching there to maintain joint integrity and prevent pain.

Cardiovascular conditioning

Cardiovascular or aerobic exercise is any activity that elevates your heart and respiration (breathing) rates. Some typical activities include walking, swimming, bicycling and aerobic-type fitness classes. Again, only undertake this type of exercise if, and for as long as, your health care team agrees it’s safe for you to do so. Any component of aerobic exercise may need to be modified or reduced over time as ALS advances.