Exercise Tips That Help With Restless Legs Syndrome

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: March 2023

Restless legs syndrome (RLS) causes leg discomfort that worsens with inactivity. There is no cure for RLS, so treatments are aimed at lessening discomfort.1

Four RLS drugs have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These are ropinirole (Requip®), pramipexole (Mirapex®), gabapentin enacarbil (Horizant®), and rotigotine (Neupro®). Your doctor may want to treat your symptoms with one of these as well as other drugs shown to help RLS symptoms.

Exercise and RLS symptom relief

Many people with RLS use drugs and non-drug therapies to control their symptoms. One non-drug therapy is exercise. Some people with RLS find that daily exercise lowers their pain. To get the benefits of exercise, people with RLS should be mindful of what types of exercises they are doing and when they do them.2,3

RLS tends to flare when people are inactive, and people say the discomfort lessens with movement. For this reason, doctors wanted to know if routine exercise controls RLS symptoms.1

A 12-week study looked at the effect of walking and lower-body exercises on RLS symptoms. People who exercised 3 times a week for 6 weeks had fewer RLS symptoms compared to those who did not exercise. People said they felt the best after 6 weeks of routine exercise.1

Tension and Trauma Release (TRE) exercises

TRE exercises are specific moves done in a specific order to tire the body in a certain way. The goal is to produce muscle tremors, which some think may help relieve RLS.In one study, 1 group did TRE exercises for 6 weeks, while the control group did not exercise and instead went to an RLS support group. Both groups had the same outcome, so TRE exercises were not any better than the support group.3

Are there guidelines for exercising with RLS?

The Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation recommends making exercise part of your daily life. Regular exercise could lessen the severity of your symptoms by 40 percent. Try doing a mix of aerobics, resistance training, and stretching. Exercises should involve working your legs. Some examples include:2,4,5

  • Aerobic exercises – exercises to get your heart rate up. These may include walking, running, swimming, dancing, kickboxing, and hiking.
  • Resistance training – exercises to strengthen your muscles. These include lifting weights, doing push-ups, and using resistance bands.
  • Stretching – exercises to increase range of motion and work all of your joints.

Doctors suggest 30 to 60 minutes a day. If this is too much, start with 10 minutes and slowly work up to longer workouts.

Tips for adding exercise into your life

If you are interested in adding exercise into your routine, talk to your doctor. Some people have health conditions besides RLS that may impact the types of exercises they can do.

For those cleared to exercise, you may try starting with light stretching, walking, or weight lifting and see how your body responds. When starting a new exercise program, try short, 10-minute workouts once or twice a week. If your symptoms get better, you may be able to increase the length of your workouts.

If symptoms worsen, either lower the intensity or stop. If an exercise program is too much, you may consider just taking an extra flight of stairs on your way home from work or parking your car further away from a store entrance to add more steps into your day. Be patient. It may take a while to find what activities help your RLS.

More benefits of exercise

Many people with RLS have a higher risk of depression and anxiety. Exercise has been shown to lessen depression, anxiety, and can even help people sleep better. Improved sleep is an added bonus to people with RLS, as the condition often causes insomnia. Exercising regularly is another effective tool to help fight depression.3,6,7

Can exercising make RLS worse?

Intense exercise could worsen RLS. Running long distances, lifting heavy weights, and high-intensity exercises may put too much stress on your body. This could make RLS flare-up. The timing of exercise is also important. Exercising near bedtime has been shown to cause RLS flare-ups.2,4

Interested in reading more about lifestyle changes for symptom relief? Explore our featured collection on lifestyle changes and alternative treatments for RLS.

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