Moderate strengthening exercises may help people with early stage ALS maintain function and quality of life longer, according to a study published in the June 5, 2007, issue of Neurology®, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
ALS, also referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease, is a progressive, fatal neurodegenerative disease that causes muscles to weaken and eventually deteriorate. Information on the role of exercise in ALS has been conflicting, with some studies suggesting that overworking the muscles could cause the disease to progress faster.
For the study, researchers randomly divided 27 people with early stage ALS into two groups. All participants were assigned a daily stretching routine, standard for people with ALS. In addition, therapists assigned 13 participants to do moderate strengthening exercises using weights three times a week. Therapists based the weight amounts on individual abilities. Researchers assessed participant's function, fatigue and overall quality of life monthly for six months. Eight people in the strengthening group and 10 in the stretching group completed the study.
The study found those who did moderate strengthening exercises had a 12-percent slower decrease in function and a 16-percent slower decline in quality of life over the six months than those who did the stretching exercises alone.
"Even though exercise might not ultimately affect the progression of ALS, exercise may improve function, increase muscle strength for a period of time and prevent the effects of disuse," said study author Vanina Dal Bello-Haas, PT, PhD, with the University of Saskatchewan, in Saskatoon, Canada. "Individualized rehabilitation programs should be designed and provided to allow people with ALS to maintain their independence and function for as long as possible."
None of the participants experienced any serious adverse effects as a result of the strengthening exercises, although one person in the strengthening group did stop the study because the participant felt the disease was progressing. Dal Bello-Haas acknowledges the study group was small and says more research is needed.
The study was funded in part by The Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Association.
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