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Exercising with Myasthenia Gravis

When you are bone-tired and short of breath, it can be hard to imagine getting exercise. However, physical activity can play an important role in helping you manage myasthenia gravis (MG) and improve your quality of life.

There is not much research to guide doctors and people with MG when it comes to exercise. Generally, people with mild MG may be able to follow the same guidelines for healthy people of at least 150 minutes of exercise per week. Even with moderate MG, many people can find some sort of physical activity that helps them feel better.1

Benefits of exercise

Traditionally, people with MG have been told to conserve their energy. But now, doctors recognize that exercise can counteract some of the most bothersome side effects of MG, including fatigue and weight gain.1,2

Exercise provides many benefits to people living with myasthenia gravis, including:1,2

  • Boosting the immune system
  • Improving energy levels and overall fitness
  • Improving gut health, mental clarity, sleep, and mood
  • Helping to control weight, blood pressure, blood sugar, and bone health

Does age play a role?

The amount and type of exercise that is right for you will depend on many things, but especially your age. Someone living with MG at age 30 has very different physical capabilities than someone living with MG in their 80s. One study found that balance exercises and exercises that improve the person’s ability to perform daily activities are especially helpful in people over age 70.1

There is little science to tell you and your doctor how much activity and what types of exercise may be right for you. Your exercise routine will be as individual as you and your MG.

Know your limits

The first rule of exercise for people with MG is know your limits. If you are in the middle of a flare or exacerbation, you should not push yourself to exercise.

How do you know how much exercise is too much? If you are tired the next day, you did too much and should take it down a notch. One good rule of thumb is to start with an activity you know will be okay and then adding difficulty as you can.2

For one person that may mean a walk around the block every other day, catching and tossing a ball for 1 minute, or standing up and sitting down 3 times in a row. Another person may be able to jog 3 miles or play 8 holes of golf while carrying their clubs.

Tips for exercising safely

If you are new to exercise or coming back after a break, talk with your doctor. Your doctor may be able to recommend a physical therapist who specializes in helping people with MG build strength, balance, and flexibility.

Some general tips for exercising safely while living with myasthenia gravis include:1-4

  • Start slowly and gradually build your strength
  • Listen to your body. Stop immediately if you feel weak.
  • Accept that you will have days where you can do more than other days, but always do what you can
  • Controlled breathing exercises and exercises to improve posture can build respiratory, swallowing, and speaking muscles
  • Alternate days of strength training, stretching and aerobic exercise
  • If you feel unstable, find exercises that allow you to sit (rowing machine, stationary bicycle, or chair yoga) or stand with support (elliptical)
  • Avoid treadmills and swim only with close supervision

It is also important to keep a record of your exercise. This allows you to chart your progress so you can see that you are walking longer, bending further, or are lifting more weight. Remember, exercise is a process. You are building your body and stamina for the future, and it will take more than 1 day to accomplish this.

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Written by: Jessica Johns Pool | Last reviewed: May 2021