A small study published in the June 5 issue of Neurology (2007; 68, 2003-2007) found that individual strength training programs should be designed for people with early-stage ALS to allow them to maintain their independence and function for as long as possible. ALS, also referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a progressive, fatal neurodegenerative disease that causes muscles to weaken and eventually deteriorate.

Researchers randomly divided 27 people with early-stage ALS into two groups. All participants were assigned a daily stretching routine, standard for people with ALS. In addition, therapists guided 13 participants through moderate strengthening exercises using weights three times a week. Therapists chose the resistance based on individual abilities. Researchers regularly assessed participants’ function, fatigue and overall quality of life over 6 months. Eight people in the strengthening group and 10 in the stretching group completed the study. The results: those who performed moderate resistance training had a 12% slower decrease in function and a 16% slower decline in quality of life during the 6 months than those who did the stretching exercises alone.

“Even though exercise might not ultimately affect the progression of ALS, exercise may improve function, increase muscle strength for a period of time and prevent the effects of disuse,” said study author Vanina Dal Bello-Haas, PT, PhD, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, in a press release. Dal Bello-Haas acknowledged that the study group wassmall and said more research was needed.