Fibromyalgia and Exercise: Yes, You Can
Exercise eases the pain of fibromyalgia. Getting started may not be easy, but it’s worth it.
Strength Training and Low-Impact Exercise
What if you don’t have access to a pool? Don’t despair: Walking, biking, and other forms of low-impact aerobic activity also provide benefits. “Grab a buddy, take a class, or look into physical therapy,” Arnold suggests.
And don’t rule out strength training. Although doctors once believed that strength training could worsen pain in people with fibromyalgia, new research suggests that this is not the case. In fact, the latest research -- presented at the 2008 annual meeting of the American Society of Anesthesiologists in Orlando -- suggests that strength training can have the same ameliorating effect on pain as aerobic exercise.
Lynne Matallana, president and founder of the National Fibromyalgia Association in Anaheim, Calif., says the benefits of exercise for people with the condition are tremendous. “This has been shown scientifically and anecdotally,” she says.
Matallana’s own experience has shown her that exercise can also soothe the mind. A former dancer, she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 1995. “I have watched how exercise has improved my symptoms and my overall outlook,” she says. “When I got in water, I could do movements that were almost like dance. That touched my soul again.”
Getting Over the Mental Hurdles
Let’s face it: It may hurt just to think about going from couch potato to marathon runner. To avoid getting overwhelmed, take it in stages.
“If you have fibromyalgia, you have this amplified pain signal telling you that something is wrong,” Mattalana says. “It’s a natural instinct to want to protect your body by going to bed, but that actually makes pain worse.”
Try these two tips to get your mind on board:
- Give yourself a pep talk. “Tell yourself that this is going to be beneficial,” Mattalana says. “Say, ‘Today I will do just this amount because I know this will help me feel better.”
- Set realistic goals. Arnold often prescribes five minutes of walking to start. “People may think that won’t be too difficult, but it can be if you have fibromyalgia,” she says. “We start very slow and build up from there, and emphasize that there is no hurry.”