Reprinted with the kind permission of Katarina Zulak and Skillfully Well & Painfully Aware .
Does just seeing another article about exercise make you want to turn the page? It often makes me want to. When I got diagnosed with my chronic condition all the information about exercise seemed so out of touch with the reality of my life. If I’m already tired, sore and busy then I’m not going to be able to go to the gym. I can’t afford a personal trainer. With my back pain there is no way I can participate in the group yoga classes I used to take in university. Even more frustrating was the fact that all the research I came across proved how beneficial exercise is to health. I knew that I should exercise but I felt like I couldn’t.
But what if I could?
One day I came across an(other) article reporting on research that showed yoga could improve fibromyalgia, my chronic condition (OHSU, 2010). The results were impressive – pain was reduced by 24%, fatigued by 30% and depression by 42%. Great, I thought, another thing I can’t do that would help. But in this case I also found that two of the researchers were part of a nonprofit organization that produces exercise DVDs for fibromyalgia, including one on yoga and Pilates (link below). I ordered the DVD and skeptically waited for it to be delivered. I was surprised and excited to find that I was able to do the routine – which was shown at three different intensity levels so I could modify the poses as needed. I found that the at-home instructional DVD format was affordable, convenient and accessible – I could do it when I was able, for as long as I could and without wasting energy traveling somewhere and back.
During my health coach training I learned that yoga, tai chi, qi gong, and stretching are all range-of-motion or flexibility exercises. These types of exercise can also build strength and promote balance, but primarily focus on lengthening tight muscles and moving joints through the full span of movement they are intended to achieve. “Limited flexibility can cause pain, lead to injury, and make muscles work harder and tire more quickly (p. 92, Lorig et al., 2013).
My positive experience with the yoga/pilates DVD encouraged me to find other programs with a similar format. One of my favorites is the Tai Chi for Health series by Dr. Paul Lam (link here), especially the Tai chi for Arthritis program that was designed in conjunction with the Arthritis Foundation. This instructional video that takes you step-by-step through 12 lessons until you have the movement sequence memorized. I enjoyed learning an entirely new way of moving and began to feel more confident that I could include exercise in my weekly routine.
I also started seeing a physiotherapist who put together a thorough stretching routine for me to do daily. Without doubt, this is the single most effective thing I tried to improve my health and well-being. My pain has decreased and my daily functioning has improved, along with my quality of life.
Many flexibility/range-of-motion exercises programs also share a second common feature as mind-body movement practices. For example, “Yoga is a set of theories and practices with origins in ancient India. Literally, the word yoga comes from a Sanskrit work meaning “to yoke” or “to unite”. It focuses on unifying the mind, body, and spirit, and fostering a greater feeling connection between the individual and his/her surroundings” (Moonaz, 2015). Greater body awareness, stress reduction, emotional balance, and improved energy are all benefits of mind-body exercise programs (Moonaz, 2015).
Flexibility/range of motion exercise programs are a great starting point for anyone who has not exercised for awhile, or who has a health condition that makes movement challenging. They are easy to do at home or you can find many classes offered in your community. Gradually incorporating these routines 2-3 x/week and practicing daily stretching is how I was able to actually begin to move more. Below is a quick primer on what these kinds of activities are so you can pick the right one for you and a link to programs that I have tried:
Yoga: “Yoga involves directing your attention and breath as you assume a series of poses, or stretches” (Gaiamlife, n.d.).
Subscribe to the World's Most Popular Newsletter (it's free!)
Excellent at-home instructional videos for people living with fibromyalgia. Includes modifications at three different intensity levels (from seated to standing). The yoga and pilates DVD is particularly recommended. http://www.myalgia.com/VIDEOS/Video_Introduction.htm 
Overcome Pain with Gentle Yoga is recommended by health professionals (note- more challenging than yoga from myalgia.com). http://www.lifeisnow.ca/product-category/pain-management-products/#products/ 
Free mindful yoga routine, including a chair yoga option http://palousemindfulness.com/disks/yoga1.html 
Yoga for Arthritis presented by the Arthritis Foundation http://arthritis.yoga/store/products/arthritis-friendly-yoga/ 
Qi Gong and Tai chi: “The term qi gong (or chi kung) describes the complete tradition of spiritual, martial and health exercises developed in China. Tai chi is one of the most common of these. Practicing qi gong involves performing a series of movements while paying attention to the body and staying aware of the breath. The exercises are especially effective for developing balance, focus, coordination and graceful, centered movement” (Gaiamlife, n.d.).
- Tai Chi for Arthritis by the personable Dr. Paul Lam is an evidenced based at-home program that relieves pain, improves quality of life and prevents falls (also provides a seated program): http://taichiforhealthinstitute.org/programs/tai-chi-for-arthritis/ 
Stretching: Poses to lengthen muscles and increase range of motion in joints
Kate Lorig, Halsted Holman, et al. (2007). Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions, CO: Bull Publishing. http://patienteducation.stanford.edu/materials/ 
OHSU. (2010). OHSU Research Suggests Yoga can Counteract Fibromyalgia. http://www.ohsu.edu/xd/about/news_events/news/2010/2010-10-14-ohsu-research-sugge.cfm 
Moonaz, S. et al. (2015). Yoga for Arthritis. Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center. http://www.hopkinsarthritis.org/patient-corner/disease-management/yoga-for-arthritis/ 
Gaiam Life. (n.d.) How to Choose a Mind Body Exercise. http://life.gaiam.com/article/how-choose-mind-body-exercise
Disclaimer: Exercise suggestions and products mentioned are for informational purposes only and do not constitute an endorsement or recommendation by ProHealth. Check with your doctor before beginning any new exercise program.
Katarina Zulak is a health coach and ePatient blogger. Five years ago she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. On her health journey, Katarina has learned about the power of self-care skills to improve her health and well-being. She obtained her health coach certification from the Sears Wellness Institute as a way to channel her passion for partnering with others working to improve their wellness. On her blog, Skillfully Well & Painfully Aware, she writes about learning to be skillfully well, even when living with a chronic condition. Katarina lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband and their cat Lily. She loves learning, reading, being outside, Netflix, calligraphy and coffee!