Background: Previous randomized controlled trials investigating exercise training programs in facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD) patients are scarce and of short duration only. This study assessed the safety and efficacy of a 6-month home-based exercise training program on fitness, muscle, and motor function in FSHD patients.
Methods: Sixteen FSHD patients were randomly assigned to training (TG) and control (CG) groups (both n = 8) in a home-based exercise intervention. Training consisted of cycling 3 times weekly for 35 minutes (combination of strength, high-intensity interval, and low-intensity aerobic) at home for 24 weeks. Patients in CG also performed an identical training program (CTG) after 24 weeks. The primary outcome was change in peak oxygen uptake (VO 2 peak) measured every 6 weeks. The principal secondary outcomes were maximal quadriceps strength (MVC) and local quadriceps endurance every 12 weeks. Other outcome measures included maximal aerobic power (MAP) and experienced fatigue every 6 weeks, 6-minute walking distance every 12 weeks, and muscle characteristics from vastus lateralis biopsies taken pre- and postintervention.
Results: The compliance rate was 91% in TG. Significant improvements with training were observed in the VO 2 peak (+19%, P = 0.002) and MAP by week 6 and further to week 24. Muscle endurance, MVC, and 6-minute walking distance increased and experienced fatigue decreased. Muscle fiber cross-sectional area and citrate synthase activity increased by 34% (P = 0.008) and 46% (P = 0.003), respectively. Dystrophic pathophysiologic patterns were not exacerbated. Similar improvements were experienced by TG and CTG.
Conclusions: A combined strength and interval cycling exercise-training program compatible with patients' daily professional and social activities leads to significant functional benefits without compromising muscle tissue.