Take it from a Cincinnati, Ohio, mother of six, Pat Holthaun: Exercise may be the last thing you feel like doing if you have fibromyalgia, but it’s also one of the best things you can do to decrease pain.
Like many people, when Holthaun was diagnosed with the widespread pain disorder several years ago, she took up residence on her couch -- unwilling to even think about getting up and moving. But two years ago, the 72-year-old finally decided to take her doctor’s advice and enroll in a warm water aerobics class.
Fibromyalgia is so difficult to diagnose that it can take years before patients understand what’s making their bodies ache. When Lynn Matallana began noticing unexplained pain and fatigue in 1993 -- “pain in every part of my body, pain that felt like acid in my veins” -- it took her nearly two years and 37 doctors before she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. In that time, the former partner in an advertising and public relations firm says, “I went from being an extremely active, high-functioning,...
“Exercise improves a person’s overall sense of well-being and reduces pain and tenderness over time,” says Lesley M. Arnold, M.D. a psychiatrist and fibromyalgia expert at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine in Ohio. “We try to pace it slowly and make sure that their symptoms of pain and fatigue are under control before we introduce it.”
The first step is typically an assessment of the person’s current fitness level. “We like to start them on a program that is a level or two below their current level, improve their stamina, and build up to 20 to 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity on most days of the week,” Arnold tells WebMD. “We really encourage them to pace things and set reasonable goals.”
Water Aerobics Soothe and Strengthen
For people with fibromyalgia, low-impact aerobics is the way to go. “We really like an aerobic water class and people tend to go back,” Arnold says.
The research backs her up. A study in Arthritis Research & Therapy found that water aerobics improve health-related quality of life in women with fibromyalgia.
These classes often start in warm-water pools, which can be soothing. What’s more, they are typically group-based, so people can garner support and motivation from other members of the group. Holthaun says that this helps people stick to a program. “People with fibromyalgia tend to isolate, but being in a group helps motivation,” she says.