the five years before their diagnosis. (Only 13% of respondents who did not have ALS had jobs that were equally physically demanding.)
“ALS patients showed a sharp decrease in their overall physical activity about five to 10 years before the outbreak of the disease, “Rosenbohm says.
Previous research by this team pinpointed a similarly timed sharp decrease in body mass index — a standard measure of weight — starting about nine years prior to the onset of ALS symptoms.
Taken together, Rosenbohm says, it appears “the disease obviously starts years before first symptoms can be recognized.”
Is all exercise bad?
Yet another surprising finding: After diagnosis, routine intense exercise — whether leisure- or work-related — was linked to worse survival rates than lighter exercise.
For example, previously inactive patients faced an average post-diagnosis survival of just over 15 months, compared with 19 months among intense-activity patients. But survival was pegged at nearly 30 months among those who had previously engaged in moderate activity, such as biking or walking about two hours per week.
“We, therefore, believe that the level of exercise is a disease-modifying factor,” Rosenbohm shares, both before and after an ALS diagnosis.
She suggests that patients might “at first try to overpower themselves trying to overcome the illness,” only to end up losing muscle and strength at a faster pace than less-avid exercisers.
What exercises should you do if you have ALS?
Dr. Carlayne Jackson, a professor of neurology and otolaryngology with the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio cautions that “the cause of ALS remains elusive and is most likely multifactorial.” She still recommends exercise for ALS patients. Jackson says that once diagnosed, she does “generally recommend [that ALS] patients perform low-impact exercise that does not result in muscle soreness or excessive fatigue.
If you are worried about how your exercise routine may be affecting your health or believe you may have ALS, you should consult your doctor.
These are the early symptoms to look out for:
- Muscle twitches in the arm, leg, shoulder, or tongue
- Muscle cramps
- Tight and stiff muscles (spasticity)
- Muscle weakness affecting an arm, a leg, the neck, or diaphragm
- Slurred and nasal speech
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing