Sports and Recreation: Finding the Right Fit
Last updated: November 2021
Different types of SMA come with different physical abilities. Some people have a mild form of the illness and can walk. Others rely on assistive devices like walkers and wheelchairs.
SMA is a progressive disease. Over time, it is likely to affect your movement. Exercise may be more challenging due to muscle weakness and pain.
But it is still possible. It is all about finding the right activity for you.
What does the research reveal?
There is not a lot of solid scientific research on exercising with SMA. The condition is rare, so researchers have trouble recruiting people with SMA who exercise into their studies.
Another factor: people living with SMA have a wide range of physical abilities. This means study results are not always useful across the board.
Research suggests that exercise is safe for people living with SMA and may have benefits. But, there are still many questions.1
What type of exercise is best? For how long should those with SMA exercise? What is the best way to prevent fatigue and pain? Researchers will need to carry out more extensive studies to find the answers.1
Physical activity with SMA
There are different types of SMA, ranging from mild to severe. This will impact the kind of exercise you do and for how long. Here are a few ideas:2-4
Walking, running, and cycling boost endurance and cardiac health. The intensity and length of aerobic exercise are based on each person’s abilities. A good rule of thumb for people with SMA: You should still be able to talk while doing aerobic exercise.
This type of exercise builds strength and muscle mass. It is usually ok for those with milder or moderate symptoms of SMA, but it is best to stick with light weights (5 to 10 pounds) or resistance bands.
Swimming and other water exercises are safe for most people with neuromuscular disease. Floating in the water is easier and less stressful on the joints.
Some with SMA may be too weak to move their joints fully. This raises their risk of long-term muscle and soft tissue tightness (called contracture). Active or passive range-of-motion exercises and gentle stretching are safe and help to maintain or increase flexibility.
Sports and recreation
Sports can improve agility, coordination, and balance. Your city or town could offer sports programs for people with physical disabilities, called adaptive sports.
Athletes may use modified equipment like specially designed wheelchairs for racing. They are also grouped by their level of physical ability.
There are sports like adaptive skiing, fishing, rafting, and adventure travel vacations for those who like to travel.
Playgrounds and camps
Accessible playgrounds provide outdoor play areas for kids of varying abilities. These playgrounds have paths, ramps, and equipment that kids can access with a mobility device.
There are also summer and day camps for kids with physical disabilities. Some standard camps also have one-on-one help for these kids.
Muscle weakness puts people with SMA at a higher risk of injury while exercising. Signs of muscle damage include pain, cramping, and weakness. Before you start an exercise program, be sure to talk to your doctor.2
Have you shared your SMA diagnosis story with us yet?