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Exercising with a muscle wasting condition

Taking part in exercise has many benefits. However, be mindful when selecting the type of strengthening exercise for some muscle wasting conditions. It’s best to talk to your doctor or physiotherapist about exercise before you start, especially if you’re still undergoing diagnosis or having heart investigations.

Download our guidelines for exercising with a muscle wasting condition
General health benefits of keeping active and exercising

Researchers have not yet identified the optimum amount, and type of physical activity or exercise for people with muscle wasting conditions.

However, it’ is widely agreed that being inactive is harmful to health and being active in whatever way you can be, is good for you.

Here are some of the benefits of being active:

  • Reduces the risk of other diseases (for example heart disease and type 2 Diabetes) and promotes a healthy lifestyle
  • Improves heart and lung function to optimise stamina and endurance
  • Ensures that your unaffected muscles are working as well as they can. This means avoiding weakness not directly caused by the muscle wasting condition
  • May improve or maintain your ability to perform everyday tasks
  • Reduces avoidable weakness from not using muscles
  • Can reduce fatigue
  • Can improve bone density
  • Can help in controlling your weight
  • Improves your mood
  • Helps you manage stress
  • Can improve your sleep
  • Can help in reducing pain
  • Helps to maintain or improve joint range of movement
Tips to help you get active

If you haven’t done any regular activity or exercise for a while, start slowly and gradually build up. Activities like housework or walking to work are also exercise.

Try and work towards a goal. For example, avoid sitting for more than 30 minutes without moving or to exercise three times a week.

If you can, try to exercise with others, even if this is virtually. Tell people what your plans for exercise are, as this helps with keeping you on track with your goals.

Keep a record of what exercise and activity you do and when, so you can reflect on gains and improvements.

Use activity monitors or step counters on your phone, to help keep a track of your activity throughout the day.

Planning your activity/ exercise

Try to plan your exercise or activity week by week. ‘Mix and match’ your exercises to let your muscles recover and have periods of rest. For example, if you have done a lot of walking (aerobic exercise using your legs), you may want your next exercise session to be strengthening exercises which focus on specific arms, such as your legs or core muscles.

Include a warm-up before exercising and a and cool-down for after.

How will my body feel?

With aerobic exercise, such as walking, you should feel comfortably out of breath but still be able to talk. The exercise should get your heart rate up and make you perspire a little.

With new strengthening exercises, you are likely to feel a little bit achy, but muscle soreness should have gone within 48 hours. When you exercise consistently, you will notice that you’re less achy afterwards.

What precautions should I take?

  •  Do not exercise to exhaustion. Stop and rest when you need to.
  • ‘Pace’ your activities and take into consideration what other things you may be doing that day or week. Little and often is the key.
  • You should not experience increased tiredness or fatigue that limits what you can do the next day.
  • Avoid excessive ‘eccentric’ activity. This means avoiding repetitive tasks or exercises where the muscle is being lengthened, for example squats.
  • Muscle ‘tiredness’ can be confused with muscle ‘weakness’, but tiredness should improve after you have rested. Remember that when you are tired your balance is affected, so take care not to fall.
  • Exercise should not be painful.
  • Remember to protect your joints when you exercise by making sure you’re in the correct position with the correct posture.

In rare circumstances, people with muscle wasting conditions can experience changes in the colour of their urine after exercise. Your urine may be the colour of black tea or cola. Attend A&E if you notice such a change, as this could be a condition called myoglobinuria.

What type of activity or exercise can I do?

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