Exercise for Muscular Dystrophy

What is Muscular Dystrophy?

Muscular Dystrophy (MD) is a chronic disability that prevents the production of dystrophin in the body; a protein essential for the building and repairing of muscles.

It has been reported that, for people with Muscular Dystrophy, 11-55% of their strength is lost compared to those without Muscular Dystrophy. (3) This means that, with the absence of this essential protein, muscles cannot repair themselves effectively which leads to increased weakness and wasting of muscles. Over time, this leads to a decrease in muscular strength, cardiovascular endurance, coordination, balance, heart and breathing function and results in increased fatigue.

Exercise for Muscular Dystrophy

Exercise is well known to be an effective and accessible method of treatment for people with Muscular Dystrophy. Exercise has not only been proven to be a safe strategy for improved physical function, but it is also shown to increase muscle mass and strength (1) which counteracts muscle loss.

It has also been shown to improve strength, endurance, function and quality of life in the Muscular Dystrophy population. (2) Other benefits experienced by people with Muscular Dystrophy when exercising include improved mental health, energy levels and reduced anxiety, depression and pain. (3)

What does this mean for people with Muscular Dystrophy?

This means that it is safe to incorporate exercise into your week. It also means that you should incorporate physical activity into your routine as early as possible for improved strength, joint stability and coordination as well as for fatigue, balance, physical independence and improved health and wellbeing. Maintaining this function through exercise will mean that you can manage the activities that you enjoy like going to work, holidaying or spending time with friends and family.

What is Muscular Dystrophy

Case Study: Exercise for Muscular Dystrophy

Christian is a 20-year-old man who regularly goes out with his friends, works hard at his job, is currently engaged in further study to gain employment in technology testing and enjoys exercising regularly, either on his own or with his friends.

Christian was diagnosed with a genetic, neurodegenerative disability known as Muscular Dystrophy several years ago. Long-term, Christian expects to experience trouble mobilising (moving), with increased difficulty participating in activities that he enjoys.

Because of this, he has been working with an exercise physiologist for the past 2 years with the goal to improve his physical health in order to minimise the day-to-day physical impact his Muscular Dystrophy diagnosis has upon his life.

Christian found Active Ability via suggestions from his support coordinator. We provided exercise physiology services to Christian in the convenience of his own home and local park.

Christian’s Exercises for Muscular Dystrophy

Chrisitian utilises local park-based gym equipment to improve his upper body muscular strength

Christian’s Experience

When Christian first met his exercise physiologist at an initial assessment, he used to experience a lot of pain in his muscles after work or a big day out. He would often have to take a nap most days of the week for a couple of hours to manage his fatigue.

Having now been regularly exercising for the past two years, Christian now rarely needs a nap during the day and is able to go to work knowing he won’t be coming home experiencing pain. He feels much stronger and fitter than before and has said that exercise has changed his life.

Christian’s Exercises for Muscular Dystrophy

Christian has been engaging in different types of exercise over the past 2 years in order to achieve his goals and to manage his disability, including:

  • swimming
  • cycling
  • body weight and machine-based strength training.

Christian is currently cycling a few laps around the Bay Run a couple of days each week. While he used to perform his strength training at home, he has started using some of the free park-based gym equipment near home for his strength training in warmer weather. He now regularly goes down to a local park to complete his exercise program.

Benefits of Exercise for Muscular Dystrophy

In particular, Christian’s exercise has led to several significant improvements in his physical health. In his first assessment, Christian was only able to perform 5 consecutive sit to stands and 3 consecutive push-ups in 30 seconds. In his most recent assessment, he had made huge improvements and is now able to complete 15 consecutive sit to stands and 8 push ups within the same 30 seconds.

Similarly, his exercise prescription started out as a 10-minute program consisting of 4 exercises, 5 repetitions each. Now Christian is regularly completing a much more complex program, consisting of at least 10 different exercises, 2 rounds of each with 10 repetitions each round, often now engaging in 30 to 45 minutes of exercise.

These significant improvements have coincided with a huge improvement in his self-efficacy (his confidence in exercise independence), resulting in Christian now being able to exercise independently most days of the week!

If, like Christian, you would like some guidance on the specific exercise that will assist you to manage your disability and achieve your NDIS goals, it’s important that you are assessed by a qualified exercise professional, such as the exercise physiologists and physiotherapists at Active Ability.

Active Ability see clients with neurological conditions in the comfort of their home or another preferred environment, such as their workplace or local gym.

If you have strength problems associated with your neurological condition, find out more about how we can help you here.

Or get in touch with us on (02) 8678 7874, hello@activeability.com.au or via our contact form


[1] Roussel, M. P., Morin, M., Gagnon, C., & Duchesne, E. (2019). What is known about the effects of exercise or training to reduce skeletal muscle impairments of patients with myotonic dystrophy type 1? A scoping review. BMC musculoskeletal disorders20(1), 101.

[2] Manta, A., Stouth, D. W., Xhuti, D., Chi, L., Rebalka, I. A., Kalmar, J. M., … & Ljubicic, V. (2019). Chronic exercise mitigates disease mechanisms and improves muscle function in myotonic dystrophy type 1 mice. The Journal of physiology597(5), 1361-1381.

[3] Duong T., & Eichinger K. (2020). Exercise Guide for People Living with Myotonic Dystrophy. Retrieved from Myotonic Dystrophy Foundation website: https://www.myotonic.org/sites/default/files/pages/files/Exercise-Guide-for-People-Living-with-Myotonic-Dystrophy.pdf