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
Many studies link fibromyalgia and depression. In fact, people with fibromyalgia are up to three times more likely to have depression at the time of their diagnosis than someone without fibromyalgia.
Some researchers feel that depression leads to changes in brain chemistry. Others look at abnormalities of the sympathetic nervous system -- the part of the nervous system that determines how you handle stress and emergencies. These abnormalities, they contend, may lead to the release of substances...
“I just love it,” she says. “It’s such an enjoyable thing, and I am so much
more limber and stronger now.” She likes it so much, she now does water
aerobics three times a week.
Holthaun is on to something. Along with medication and education about
fibromyalgia, exercise plays a critical role in managing the disease.
Fibromyalgia and Exercise: Slow and Steady
“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
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.