Try These Exercises for Restless Legs

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Linda Wasmer Andrews on July 30, 2021

Many people with restless legs syndrome (RLS) find that regular, moderate exercise helps relieve symptoms. Think walking, cycling, and swimming. But while some exercise is good, more isn’t better. An overly vigorous workout may make RLS worse.

  • Woman running in the mountain
    Avoid exercise in the evening.
    Ideally, you should finish your workout at least six hours before bed. Your body temperature rises slightly when you exercise. It can take several hours to fall to the cooler temperature that’s associated with going to sleep. So a workout too late in the day may aggravate sleep problems.
    Take your legs for a walk.
    Walking is an easy way to get moving. In one small study, people with RLS were assigned to either an exercise group or a control group. The exercisers walked on a treadmill and did lower-body strength training three days a week for 12 weeks. By the study’s end, their RLS symptoms had decreased significantly. To walk at a moderate pace, aim for 3 miles per hour or faster, but don’t speed walk.
  • Family on bike trails
    Be a pedal pusher.
    Cycling is another activity that can calm symptoms. Most people with RLS also have periodic limb movement of sleep (PLMS)—twitches that occur every 15 to 40 seconds while sleeping. A published study showed that pedaling a stationary bike three times a week can reduce PLMS at night. To cycle at a moderate pace, aim for 10 miles per hour or slower.

  • man in pool
    Jump in the pool.
    Doing water aerobics in a warm (83 to 88 degrees Fahrenheit) pool is a good choice. The warmth of the water helps relax your leg muscles, and the buoyancy encourages free movement and promotes flexibility. At the same time, you’re getting a cardio workout that’s good for your overall health.
  • Couple stretching before exercise
    Finish with a relaxing stretch.
    The bulk of your exercise should occur well before bedtime. However, gentle stretching right before bed may help calm your restless legs, relieving the unpleasant sensations that make it hard to sleep. Plus, a relaxing stretch helps you let go of stress, preparing your mind for peaceful slumber. Continue to learn three stretching techniques.
    Stretch your calves.
    1. Stand facing a wall. Stretch your arms forward with your elbows almost straight and your palms flat on the wall.

    2. Bend your right knee slightly. Step back a foot or two with your left leg, planting your heel and foot flat on the floor. Push your pelvis forward. If you don’t feel a stretch in your calf, step back a little farther. Hold 20 to 30 seconds.

    3. Bend your left knee as far as you can while keeping your heel and foot flat on the floor. Hold 20 to 30 seconds. Then switch legs and repeat.
  • man-stretching-at-wall-before-run
    Stretch your thighs.
    1. Stand facing a wall, close enough that you can reach out for balance if necessary.

    2. Keep your right leg straight and firmly planted on the floor. Bend your left knee and grasp your ankle behind you. Pull your heel up toward your buttocks. Hold 20 to 30 seconds. Then switch legs and repeat.
  • exhausted-female-runner-bending-over-on-road
    Stretch your hamstrings.
    1. Stand behind a chair, close enough that you can grasp the back with both hands while in the position described in step 2.

    2. Bend forward at your hips (not your waist) until your torso is parallel to the floor. Keep your back flat. Hold 10 to 30 seconds.
Exercises for Restless Legs Syndrome

About The Author

  1. Restless Leg Syndrome. A.D.A.M. (accredited by the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission). October 12, 2009.
  2. Exercises for Arthritis. Arthritis Foundation.
  3. Physical Activity for Everyone: How Much Physical Activity Do Adults Need? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. March 30, 2011.
  4. Restless Legs Syndrome: What Is Restless Legs Syndrome? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. November 2010.
  5. Chapter 4, Sample Exercises: Stretching Exercises. National Institute on Aging. January 31, 2008.
  6. Restless Legs Syndrome: ‘Creepy-Crawly’ Legs Causing Distress? Harvard Medical School.
  7. Can’t Sleep? What to Know About Insomnia. National Sleep Foundation. 2011.
  8. Diet, Exercise and Sleep, National Sleep Foundation. December 2009.
  9. Lifestyle Changes and Activities. Worldwide Education and Awareness for Movement Disorders. January 14, 2011.
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Last Review Date: 2021 Jul 30
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