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Exercise promising for CMT

The benefits of exercise have long been touted for everything from maintaining a healthy body weight to improving mood. Exercise, it seems, also may be beneficial for those with Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) Disease interested in improving their quality of life.

Those with CMT often have progressive loss of muscle strength and motor skill control as the disease advances. This may cause a marked impairment in their ability to walk and participate in activities of daily living. However, consistent evidence suggests that resistance and endurance training may be an effective "prescription" for improving quality of life.

In a 2004 study conducted by the Department of Human Performance & Applied Exercise Science, School of Medicine at West Virginia University, 20 CMT patients volunteered for a 12-week, home-based resistance exercise program that focused on strength, body composition and activities of daily living. The subjects progressively strength trained at home for 3 days a week. The conclusion was that resistance training improved strength and performance of activities of daily living.

"The clinical literature has repeatedly demonstrated that an appropriate program of strength and endurance exercise training has been effectively used in many diseased and disabled populations, including CMT patients," states Dr. Robert Chetlin, PhD, CSCS, CHF at the West Virginia University School of Medicine who participated in the 2004 study. "The known 'interventional redundancy' associated with exercise has been recognized by several allied health and government agencies. This consensus has been manifested in the creation and implementation of the "Exercise-Is-Medicine™" (EIM) initiative, the goal of which is to promote exercise, when appropriate, as standard clinical operating procedure in the prevention and treatment of disease. It is my professional belief that many, many CMT patients could derive important benefits from this program, including improvement and maintenance of functional independence and higher quality of life."

There is already other evidence that suggests exercise may play a key role in CMT therapy.

"I use spinning as both my physical and emotional salvation," offers Allison Moore, founder of the Hereditary Neuropathy Foundation (www.hnf-cure.org), and an individual with CMT. "When I first started spinning I couldn't stand on the bike at all. Now after several months I'm not only able to stand, I've even progressed to becoming a spin instructor."

Moore is also using her passion for spin class to help raise money for CMT awareness.

"My whole goal is to bring awareness of this disease," she says. "Being able to make exercise part of my job through spin events -- and use it to fundraise -- is something that is so rewarding."

Not only does it help stave off muscle atrophy, exercise can boost endorphins throughout the entire body and improve mental outlook and acceptance of the disease.

Individuals can experiment with a physical regimen that works for them and fine-tune activities to alleviate symptoms. Certain activities seem tailor-made for those with CMT. For example, Pilates can be a low-impact, strengthening and flexibility workout to try. Pilates is often renowned for its ability to create long, lean muscles and a strong physique.

Some with CMT take to swimming and water exercises because of the resistance water offers with the buoyancy that helps prevent strain. Yoga or even elliptical training can also be ways to strengthen in a low-impact way.

Explore the therapeutic benefits of exercise with a doctor before beginning any exercise routine.