Exercise for Early onset Motor Neuron Disease (MND)

Motor Neuron Disease (MND), also known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is an inherited disorder which causes deterioration of the motor neurons in the body. A motor neuron is a nerve cell which forms a pathway from the brain and spinal cord to a gland or muscle. It is a debilitating disease, which I have witnessed first-hand with my grandmother whom passed away from MND 7 years ago. I have always wondered if she had led a more active lifestyle, her MND may have had a later onset and she might have lived a more fulfilled life in her last few years.

The most common type is ALS – Sporadic, which means it is hereditary for 5-10% of the population and can also affect anyone with no risk factors, with survival approximately 2-5 years from onset of symptoms. In 2015, 758 deaths occurred due to MND in Australia, which has led to continuing research. The main signs and symptoms of MND affecting exercise include; muscle weakness, atrophy, and spasticity of the muscles. It also affects breathing, swallowing and causes fatigue. Spasticity may cause stiffness and twitching of the muscles, which is why exercise is important for muscle activation and fine movements to possibly prolong the onset of MND.

It has previously been hypothesised that vigorous intensity exercise can speed up the process of MND development. Although, from majority of the articles studied, this may not be true. In fact, aerobic moderate intensity, strength training and passive stretching can be utilised during the early stages of MND to prolong motor function and activities of daily living. One study by McCrate and Kaspar (2008) demonstrated that exercising can significantly improve independence with mobility and daily functioning. This is due to exercise slowly decreasing the rapid rate of degeneration of the motor neurons and muscles. Resistance training is beneficial for MND as it requires voluntary muscle activation, strength and endurance of the muscles. It is important to keep yourself active as it may improve your quality of life and may improve your daily functioning. Examples of aerobic and resistance training include:

Aerobic Exercise

  • Complete 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity per week – examples: Running, cycling, swimming, dancing, boxing.

Resistance Training

  • Complete strengthening-based exercises for at least 2 days per week – examples: Gym machines, body weight exercises, HIIT training (resistance and aerobic), free weights.

If you, or someone you know wants more information in exercise prescription for MND please contact one of our Accredited Exercise Physiologists at Absolute Balance. Please email info@absolutebalance.com.au or view our website www.absolutebalance.com.au

Emma Tutty (B.Sc. – Sports, Grad Dip.Exercise Physiology)
Accredited Exercise Physiologist (AEP) (ESSAM)


Bello-Haas, V. D., & Florence, J. M. (2013). Therapeutic Exercise for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or Motor Neuron Disease. Cochrane Library. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD005229.pub3

Francis, K., Bach, J. R., DeLisa, J. A. (1999). Evaluation and Rehabilitation of Patients with Adult Motor Neuron Disease. Science Direct, 80(8). DOI: 10.1016/S0003-9993(99)90089-8

McCrate, M., & Kaspar, B. (2008). Physical Activity and Neuroprotection in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. NeuroMolecular Medicine, 10(2), 108–117. DOI:10.1007/s12017-008-8030-5

MND Australia. Facts and Figures. https://www.mndaust.asn.au/Get-informed/What-is-MND/Facts-and-figures.aspx