Exercise can be a touchy subject for fibromyalgia patients. When it hurts to move, the idea of exercising seems unfathomable. But multiple studies have shown that exercise is an important component of any FM treatment plan.
Part of the problem is that most people think of exercise as jogging, aerobics and other strenuous activities. FM and ME/CFS specialist Dr. Charles Lapp suggests redefining "exercise" for FM patients. Perhaps a better word would be "movement" or "activity." He says the main thing is to avoid strict bed rest, which causes deconditioning, which in turn makes symptoms worse.
Important FM "exercise" tips:
- Move your body as much and as often as you are able - even if it's just walking to the kitchen for a glass of water.
- Deep breathing exercises - learning to breathe from the lower part of the diaphragm - is essential. Shallow breathing increases neck and shoulder pain and can cause chest tightness, shortness of breath and spasms in the postural muscles. Deep breathing eases tension and improves the circulation of oxygen in your body.
- Stretch your muscles periodically throughout the day. Begin slowly with seated stretches. After several weeks, if you are able, progress to standing stretches.
- When you first begin any new type of exercise, begin very slowly. Depending on the severity of your illness, start with as little as one minute and build up very gradually (i.e., spend several weeks at each level).
- Take frequent rest breaks. Try resting three minutes for each minute of exercise. Once you've moved into strength training or cardiovascular exercise, it's a good idea to only exercise every other day, allowing yourself a day of rest between workouts.
- Break up your exercise sessions. Five three-minute sessions are better for FM patients than one fifteen-minute session.
- For those who are able to tolerate a longer period of exertion, water exercise may be a good option. Water's buoyancy decreases the effects of gravity, displacing 85 percent of your weight. As a result, it takes less effort to move because you don't have to support your whole weight. Also, immersion in water promotes relaxation, reduces muscle fatigue and lessens pain perception.
- A low impact workout or stretching can do wonders in a short amount of time. Take a look at the activities in ProHealth's exercise & activity calorie calculator for good ideas and inspiration.
- To find classes in your area, try our Exercise Class Locator.