Tips for Exercising With Fibromyalgia
Karen Lee Richards | June 27, 2012 Feb 12, 2018
Study after study has shown that, when done properly, exercise can help reduce fibromyalgia symptoms and improve overall quality of life. But because of the pain and fatigue, most people with fibromyalgia tend to shy away from exercise. With the right plan, however, it is possible for someone with fibromyalgia to develop a successful exercise program.
The word “exercise” is usually associated with strenuous activity, which would be too much for most fibromyalgia patients. Instead, try to think of exercise simply as movement. Try to focus on moving your body more. If all you can do at first is walk to the mailbox, that’s fine. The important thing is to move. Too much inactivity, whether lying down or sitting, can actually increase your pain. During the day, try to move frequently, even if it’s just to walk to another room and back.
Most things you read will tell you to start with at least 20 to 30 minutes of exercise. But if you haven’t been exercising at all, that may be way too much for you. If you overdo it and trigger a flare, you’re going to be much less likely to try again. It’s much better to start with something like two minutes and gradually increase the length of time as you’re able.
Set your own goals
Evaluate where you are now and how much movement you get in an ordinary day. Decide how much you think you can add without triggering a flare. Gradually increase the amount of time you are moving or exercising. If you have a flare, drop back to your previous level for a while longer. The important thing is to be patient with yourself and don’t give up.
Exercises to avoid
People with fibromyalgia should try to avoid movements that cause muscles to contract and lengthen at the same time. This may include anything that raises your arms over your head, vacuuming, mopping, making beds, putting dishes into the dishwasher or clothes into the dryer, or walking down steps or downhill.
Exercises worth trying
When deciding what type of exercise to do, the most important thing is to choose something you enjoy. You’re much more likely to continue if you enjoy what you’re doing. Following are some exercise activities that other fibromyalgia patients have found helpful and fibro-friendly.
Walking is a great exercise with multiple benefits for fibromyalgia, such as helping move more oxygen and nutrients to your muscles; improving mood, sleep, and circulation; increasing energy; and aiding in weight management. Several short walks are often more feasible for people with fibromyalgia and the health benefits are the same as taking one long walk.
Water exercise is an excellent option for people with fibromyalgia. Water provides several benefits that make exercise easier, less painful, and more effective. 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. A systematic review of water exercise studies for fibromyalgia found them beneficial for improving symptoms, fitness, and overall wellness.
Yoga and martial arts
Yoga and the martial arts, like tai chi and qigong, are known for improving breathing, balance, sleep, and muscle strength and coordination. A study on the effects of Tai Chi on fibromyalgia symptoms conducted at Tufts University Medical Center in Boston found clinically important improvements in both physical and mental performance as well as in overall quality of life.
Pilates is a low-impact exercise that focuses on core strength/stability and breathing, both important for people with fibromyalgia. Patients should work with a Pilates instructor who can help them develop a personalized program and make modifications that will meet their individual needs.
Resistance training can include the use of free or machine weights, bands, elastic tubing, or one’s own body weight. A recent review of studies on resistance training for fibromyalgia stated: “… the latest evidence indicates that when resistance training is tailored to individual needs, people with FM can obtain worthwhile improvements in FM severity.” It’s important to rest for at least one day between workouts to allow muscles time to recover.