Why exercise benefits fibromyalgia


Probably the last thing someone with fibromyalgia feels like doing is to exercise.  The symptoms of muscle pain, fatigue and tenderness throughout the body do not make it very conducive to want to get up and move.  Yet exercise may be one of the best activities one can do for anyone with this chronic disorder.  Of the estimated 5 million Americans 18 or older – 80% to 90% of those diagnosed being women - exercise can be an effective treatment option significantly showing positive improvements of symptoms resulting in increased quality of life and physical functioning.

Why consider exercise?

There was a time when doctors discouraged those with fibromyalgia from participating in physical activity.  The reasoning was that exercise could exacerbate symptoms or even accelerate the disease.  Doctor’s orders were usually to rest and take it easy.  Today, exercise may be just what the doctor does order and it could be in the form of walks, stretching, swimming, yoga, tai chi, or Pilates.  Also low-impact exercise such as chair exercises can keep one mobile and fit keeping fibromyalgia under control.

What changed the minds of doctors on exercise for fibromyalgia were numerous scientific studies showing the benefits it bestows for many patients with this condition.  It is now excepted that for many with fibromyalgia, participating in activities that enhance range of motion, strengthening, and aerobic conditioning are safe and effective.  Every patient will be unique in their physical capabilities on specifically what type of exercise they can do.  Some may be able to participate in a moderate exercise program while others may need to practice being active with a less intense exercise regimen. 

Whatever level of exercise one can do, the main idea is to use exercise as one method of possibly helping to relive symptoms that can lead to less pain, less muscles aches and less fatigue.

Why exercise is important for fibromyalgia

Studies are showing there can be gains made with incorporating physical activity into a daily routine for those with fibromyalgia.  Exercise can be one of the most effective parts of managing fibromyalgia and patients need to see physical activity as a long-term program.  Being physically active can prevent muscle wasting, increase emotional well-being, and over time, reduce fatigue and pain.

A 2014 study looked at the number of steps taken per day and the clinical outcomes of fibromyalgia patients. Participants who went from being inactive to gradually increasing to 5,000 steps a day, were found to have positive outcomes on their Fibromyalgia Impact Quotient, pain intensity, pain interference, and depression scores. 

A recent 2017 study found that exercise training for patients with fibromyalgia significantly reduces symptoms of anxiety.  Another research study conducted in 2016 found that women who attended a university-based exercise program showed various positive results from being a part of this activity. 

Other reasons why moderate exercise should be encouraged is the fact that there are many positive gains to be made by being active some of which include the following:

·Improves the quality of sleep

·Improves aerobic capacity and cardiovascular health

·Improves energy levels and a person’s outlook on life

·Improves bone strength reducing the risk of osteoporosis

·Improves muscle strength helping to keep a person mobile

·Depression and anxiety levels are reduced

·Improves better range of motion to painful muscles and joints

How to start

It is important to start an exercise program slowly and with a doctor’s approval.  Patients who try difficult exercises too early can increase their pain making them discouraged and decide to quit.  Patients should be prepared for relapses and setbacks but should not give up.  If one form of exercise doesn’t seem to help, they should experiment with another form.

Starting off with small bursts of exercise seems to be helpful. Research finds that adding small amounts of exercise each day like taking the stairs, gardening, and walking helps people with fibromyalgia with improvements in their pain and fatigue.  Once a person improves, they can gradually increase their activity level.

The important thing to remember is unless a person with fibromyalgia takes that first step and initiative to start exercising, they will never know if it can be a possible method of restoring their general well-being and personal satisfaction with life.