Developing safe and sustainable exercise habits is important, especially when you live with a condition like myasthenia gravis.
Myasthenia gravis is an autoimmune condition that causes weakness in the muscles that move your body. There’s currently no cure for the condition, but medication can help limit symptoms and lower your risk of complications.
People with myasthenia gravis often feel more fatigue or weakness than average after physical effort and repetitive movements. This can make it challenging to exercise.
But regular low- to moderate-intensity exercise may improve your physical fitness and quality of life. This may have benefits for managing myasthenia gravis and supporting your overall physical and mental wellness.
Read on to learn more about exercising safely with myasthenia gravis.
If you have myasthenia gravis, your doctor will likely encourage you to get low- to moderate-intensity exercise on a regular basis.
Although research on the effects of exercise in people with myasthenia gravis is limited, a 2023 review of nine studies found that participating in an exercise program was generally safe for people with this condition. The structure and content of the exercise programs varied across studies.
Only one of the research participants experienced a flare-up of myasthenia gravis while taking part in an exercise program. In comparison, five people who were part of the control and did not take part in an exercise program experienced a flare-up.
Some research participants also felt increased fatigue, but it was mild and temporary.
Talk with your doctor to learn whether you should incorporate more exercise into your routine or adjust your current exercise habits. You may need to take a break from exercise or adjust your fitness routine when you’re experiencing a flare-up or exacerbation of symptoms.
It’s not clear whether exercise reduces disease activity or symptoms in myasthenia gravis, but it does support overall physical and mental health.
Some studies in the same 2023 review found improvements in myasthenia gravis-related fatigue and immune markers among people who participated in an exercise program, but other studies did not.
A 2021 review found that physical training or exercise may improve breathing patterns and respiratory muscle strength in people with myasthenia gravis.
Regular exercise can also improve general strength, mobility, endurance, and balance. This may help you complete routine tasks like walking, climbing stairs, and household chores with more ease and independence. Improving your physical strength and balance also lowers your risk of falls and injuries.
Generally, we know that regular exercise reduces your risk of certain chronic health conditions, such as:
- heart disease
- type 2 diabetes
- many types of cancer
Exercise also has mental health benefits. It may improve your sleep quality, boost your mood, and limit symptoms of anxiety and depression.
More research is needed to learn which types of exercise are best for people with myasthenia gravis.
- Get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week.
- Complete muscle-strengthening activities at least 2 days per week, including activities that target all of your major muscle groups.
These recommendations are for the general adult population, not people with myasthenia gravis specifically. Your doctor can help you learn whether these targets are appropriate for you. They might advise you to adjust the intensity level, duration, or frequency of your workouts.
Some examples of moderate-intensity aerobic activities include:
- brisk walking
- water aerobics
- riding a bike at a moderate pace on level ground
Some examples of muscle-strengthening activities include:
- resistance band exercises
- calisthenics, such as pushups and situps
- certain types of yoga and pilates
Talk with your doctor before trying a new activity. They can help you learn whether it’s safe for you.
Getting treatment for myasthenia gravis is important for reducing symptoms and lowering your risk of complications. It may help prevent potentially life threatening complications, including a myasthenic crisis.
More research is needed to learn how treatments affect exercise ability in myasthenia gravis. Some people have anecdotally reported that getting treatment supports their exercise abilities or goals.
Talk with your doctor to learn more about your treatment options for myasthenia gravis. Let them know if you notice changes in your health or if you have questions or concerns about your treatment plan.
Here are some strategies that may help you develop a safe and sustainable exercise plan:
- Build up gradually: If you’re starting a new exercise routine or returning after a break, start slowly and build up gradually. Work with a healthcare professional to develop an exercise plan that fits your current abilities.
- Ask for a referral to a physical therapist or exercise physiologist: These specialists can help you develop an individualized plan and learn to perform new activities or movements in safe and effective ways.
- Get active with a friend: You might find it more enjoyable and motivating to exercise with a friend. They can also help you in the case of an emergency, such as a myasthenic crisis that requires medical treatment.
- Respect your limits: Pay close attention to your body — and avoid exercising, reduce the intensity of your workout, or take a break if you feel more tired or weak than usual. You might find that your body responds better to multiple mini-workouts than one long workout.
- Rest up: Getting enough high quality sleep and incorporating regular rest days into your workout routine is important for supporting your health and recovering from exercise. Talk with your doctor, physical therapist, or exercise physiologist to learn how often you should take rest days and how long to wait between workouts.
An exercise plan that works well for one person with myasthenia gravis may not work for another. Developing an individualized plan with your doctor or another qualified healthcare professional can help meet your needs.
You might find it challenging to exercise with myasthenia gravis due to fatigue, weakness, or other symptoms.
But the benefits of low- to moderate-intensity exercise appear to outweigh the risks for most people.
Getting regular exercise can improve your strength, mobility, endurance, balance, and mood. It also lowers your risk of many chronic health conditions, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Your doctor, physical therapist, or exercise physiologist can help you develop an exercise plan that meets your needs. They will likely advise you to include aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercises in your routine.
Following your treatment plan for myasthenia gravis is also important for staying safe and healthy.