Exercise & Physical Activity

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: September 2021

We have all heard that exercise is good for us and should be a part of our daily routine. But if you have neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMO), you might be wondering if exercise is safe or even an option for you. As with other chronic conditions, exercising with NMO may be tough at times. But in most cases, the benefits of exercise outweigh the risks.1,2

A healthy lifestyle fosters a balanced immune system. This can help reduce the risks of inflammation while defending the body against infection. Regular exercise and sufficient rest are 2 important keys to a healthy lifestyle.2

You should discuss exercise options, as well as limitations or modifications, with your doctor.1

What are the benefits?

Regular exercise and physical activity has many benefits, such as:3

Helps you maintain a healthy weight

Along with diet, exercise is key to keeping a healthy weight. In order to lose weight, you have to burn off more calories than you eat and drink.

Reduces your risk of heart disease

Exercise strengthens your heart and blood vessels. This reduces your risk of heart disease such as heart attack, coronary artery disease, and high cholesterol.

Lowers your blood sugar levels and helps insulin work better

This can decrease your risk of type 2 diabetes. If you have type 2 diabetes, exercise can help you better manage it.

Improves your mood

Exercise releases hormones in your body that help to improve your mood.

Reduces your risk of falling

For those with NMO, falls can happen because of problems with muscle strength and balance. Exercise helps to improve strength and balance, decreasing the risk of falling.

Because NMO is a rare disease, there have not been many studies on the impact of exercise and NMO. However, multiple sclerosis (MS) is similar to NMO in many ways, with many large studies showing the benefits of exercise in this disease. Some of these benefits include improvements in many areas, including:4

  • Fatigue
  • Muscle strength
  • Flexibility
  • Balance
  • Spasticity
  • Memory (cognition)

Types of exercises for people with NMO

A wide variety of types of exercise may be beneficial for people with NMO. Whatever type of exercise you choose, it may need to be customized to accommodate symptoms and limitations.

Several members of your care team, including your doctor, nurse, physical therapist, or occupational therapist, will be able to assist in designing an exercise program that suits you. For people with NMO, it is a good idea to avoid exercising during the hottest part of the day so you do not get overheated or fatigued.1,5

Choosing the right exercise program

You have different options when it comes to choosing the right exercise program. Keep in mind that exercise does not have to always be intense and vigorous. Remember this when you are exploring options that are best for you. Choices may include:1-2

  • Swimming or walking
  • Adaptive sports, if you have limitations that affect mobility
  • Yoga, which emphasizes relaxation, breathing, and mindful movement

Most people with NMO are able to exercise in different ways. Because everyone is different, the exercise you choose to do should account for your own abilities. Consult with your doctor before starting an exercise program.2

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