Give fibromyalgia a workout
by Cindy Binkley, FLT Columnist
Exercise and fibromyalgia – ugh! For many people with fibromyalgia these are almost “fighting” words. After all, because of pain and fatigue, it is almost impossible to move from a chair to get food or water – how in the world is a person supposed to exercise? Yet, not moving ultimately causes more pain and fatigue and adds to the vicious cycle of deconditioning.
Everyone knows the benefits of exercise – tone your muscles, lose weight, sleep better and increase your endurance. What you may not know is that you can enjoy these benefits despite fibromyalgia and that exercise can even help you manage your fibromyalgia symptoms.
You have to be physically active, and you have to move, or your fibromyalgia will get worse. But you have to do it in a very controlled way, or you’ll have more pain, more fatigue and more disrupted sleep. As with many things we enjoy, exercise is good for you, but it can be bad for you if you overdo it!
Your first step is choosing an activity you enjoy, maybe an activity you used to participate in before you developed fibromyalgia. Researchers say that people with fibromyalgia can participate in any activity they enjoy as long as they adapt it to meet their needs.
Next, determine how to adapt to the activity you’ve chosen. Will you need special tools, like blocks or pillows, to support you while you’re taking part in it? Do you need to find a particular location, like a heated pool, to work out? Do you want to work out with other people with fibromyalgia in a group activity, like an adaptive yoga class or an aerobics class, specifically for people with fibromyalgia? Or should you contact a physical therapist or an exercise professional for advice?
Finally, follow these steps to develop an exercise program that will help you gain muscle strength, flexibility, better circulation, a more toned physique, better sleep, without causing you increased pain:
- Get some cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise. Joint-friendly choices include low-impact activities such as walking, cycling, dancing, swimming, water aerobics, and gardening. Start with just five minutes of an activity three times a week, then add another minute every time you work out. When you’ve built up to 30 minutes, gradually increase the number of workouts to five times a week.
- Strengthen your muscles. Using resistance bands, free weights, or weight machines will help build strength. Move slowly and use very light weights (and no weight if you’re using weight machines), then gradually build up. This should be done twice a week on nonconsecutive days.
- After you’re warmed up, gently stretch all major muscles for five to 10 seconds. Doing this in a warm shower or pool will make it easier.
- Breathe: Inhale before you start an exercise repetition, then blow the air out as you contract your muscles. After you complete a rep, inhale and exhale slowly before beginning again.
- Don’t overdo: Stop your workout at a point when you feel that you could go for a while longer.
Remember to give yourself the time you need to ease back into a fitness routine. It can take six weeks to two months for your body to get accustomed to regular activity and for you to determine the length of the workout, the types of exercises, and the intensity that are appropriate for you.
Keep in mind that it’s common for people with fibromyalgia to experience a temporary increase in pain from muscle soreness when they first start to exercise, but this goes away. And if you’re having a flare, try to cut back but continue to be active. Don’t stop and wait until you feel better. Once you get started, it’s easier to stay active than it is to stop and start again! Most important, don’t give up. The longer you keep exercising, the healthier you’ll be, the more you’ll be able to do, and the better you’ll feel.
If you are not sure where to start or would like a program tailored to your physical ability and goals, it may be a good idea to work with a physical therapist or a certified exercise specialist, who’s experienced with fibromyalgia.