Exercise and activity

People with Mitochondrial disease benefit from regular exercise. As well as the usual benefits for the body, mind and spirit, physical activity helps their mitochondria work and improves their ability to tolerate exercise. This can improve their quality of life.


In people with certain types of Mitochondrial disease, exercise intolerance is the only symptom. Regular activity can help free them from symptoms, as it builds up their tolerance for exercise.

People with Mitochondrial disease that affects their heart and other organs, also benefit from activity, but need an exercise program designed to meet their needs and abilities.


It is best for you or your child to start slowly. If a particular activity makes you or your child feel totally exhausted and it takes hours or days to recover, it means the activity is causing more harm than good to the muscles. Use how you or your child is feeling as a guide to balance exercise and rest. Help your child learn to do this by “listening” to his or her body.

Your doctor and physiotherapist can work with you or your child to design an exercise program, which may include:

  • activities such as cycling, walking or swimming
  • exercises to strengthen muscles

Older children and adults may learn to strengthen muscles with resistance training. This usually involves lifting weights or using weight machines. You or your child should start slowly, taking care not to do too much. Becoming exhausted will hurt the muscles.

Monitoring the effects of exercise

As part of your child’s ongoing care, exercise and strength testing may be repeated to keep track of how well his or her body is responding to exercise. If exercise is stimulating the mitochondria to work, the tests will improve. If there isn’t improvement, it doesn’t mean that the treatment isn’t working. It may mean the treatment is working to slow down the progression of the disease.

Strength testing is usually done every year, or more often if your child is losing muscle strength. Muscle strength is tested with equipment such as:

  • a Biodex machine, which measures the amount of force put out by a muscle
  • a JAMAR tool, which measures the strength of the hand grip

Exercise has important benefits for your child.

Teach your child to make physical activity

a part of his or her daily life.


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