10 Tips for Exercising With Fibromyalgiaby Ginger Vieira Health Writer & Patient Advocate
The average fibromyalgia patient gains 35 pounds during the first year of their diagnosis, according to some sources. I was determined not to contribute to that alarming statistic. I also knew I couldn’t just not exercise for the rest of my life despite the extreme pain I was in by the time I was properly diagnosed. Here are 10 important tips to help you keep exercise as a regular part of your life without causing flare-ups.
Embrace the truth: You do have limits
If sprinting and Crossfit were your faves prior to your diagnosis, they are probably forms of exercise you’ll need to say goodbye to. This is a hard pill to swallow, but you have a choice: adapt to your new limits or constantly push them and constantly be in a state of severe pain, severe exhaustion, and depression. You can thrive with fibromyalgia, and even feel great most of the time if you respect your limits.
Try something new
If you’ve always hated swimming, you might not hate it so much if it’s one of the few forms of exercise that is kind to your body. Make a list of all the types of exercise you’ve never tried. Barre? Walking? Water aerobics? Zumba? Pilates? That weird cardio machine in the corner of the gym? You may not be able to do your former 15-mile run, but any physical connection you can make with your muscles, your bones, and your exercising spirit will feel good.
Dial it down
Choose the dumbbell an older person might choose — yup, the 3-pounder. It may feel like nothing, but it’s crucial not to push yourself sometimes. When you try a new type of exercise or return to something you haven’t done in a while, begin slowly. Even if it’s just walking, start at a very mellow pace, without any major hills to climb, and for not much more than 30 minutes. Over the course of three to four weeks you can gradually increase that intensity; you may find that walking becomes the perfect exercise for you.
Avoid feeling the burn
A big part of what triggers a flare-up is simply the stress on your body, even when it’s good stress from really fun exercise. Whether you’re lifting weights or walking in the woods, avoid working hard enough to feel the lactic acid burning in your mus-cles. Having to abide by this rule takes the fun out of a lot of things (like weightlifting) but it prevents excruciatingly painful flare-ups, too.
Feet hurt? Get the right shoes!
For a while, the only shoes I could wear when walking my dogs outside were dorky-looking tennis shoes — and I’ve never played tennis! They were flat, wide, and sturdy. If I walked in running sneakers, which have a different shape sole, my knees felt as if they were swelling up like bal-loons, and my feet were burning in pain during a walk. On a treadmill, my feet and knees are happiest in five-toe Vibrams. I won’t wear anything else. Don’t just accept the pain. Find the shoe that works for you.
Just because you have fibromyalgia doesn’t mean you can’t wear your baby in a backpack for a walk in the woods. But it might mean there’s a limit to how long you can wear that extra weight in order to prevent pain. When you’re in the gym, maybe you can actually use heavier weights, but only for one set of each exercise rather than four. One set is still more than zero. Perhaps you can do ab exercises on the living room floor, but not every day. Learn your personal limits, and stick to them
Save your energy for what you love the most
If you want to make sure you have energy and strength to run around with your children at the playground, make sure you’re not wasting your energy on things you don’t love, like weeding the garden. There are certainly some things that you probably know your body simply can’t handle, but there are other activities you can still enjoy if you plan for them by limiting yourself elsewhere.
Accept a certain degree of pain
There’s a big difference between a little soreness or pain the day after new exercise versus a full-blown flare-up. For example, when I began using a treadmill again in the winter for walking, I was experiencing tremendous pain in my knees the next morning. Fortunately, it came and went within a couple of hours. A little bit of soreness or pain should be expected, but it shouldn’t be enough that it interferes with your day.
Don’t avoid your medications
If I stop taking my daily dose of muscle relaxants, my neck and hand muscles start spasming within about 36 hours. By day five, I can’t turn my head and my hands are wrapped 24/7 in ice packs. After a week, I can’t type or lift a pot off the stove. Muscle relaxants are a daily part of my life. They make exercise possible. They make motherhood possible. They make enjoying life possible.
Don’t give up
Above all else, be persistent. There will be days or weeks when staying active will be very difficult or impossible. But that doesn’t mean you can’t exercise ever again. Sometimes your body demands rest, and you must abide. That’s okay. Remember, flare-ups are temporary. When you’re ready, get moving and reconnect to your bones and muscles. Be grateful for what they can do, rather than what they can’t.