Fibromyalgia and Exercise
How Is Serotonin Related to Women and Fibromyalgia?
It appears that women may have a greater sensitivity to changes in this brain chemical. Mood swings during the menstrual cycle, menopause, or following the birth of a child may be hormonally induced through the action of the hormones on neurotransmitters.
Various factors -- such as sunlight, certain carbohydrate foods, some hormones, and exercise -- can have a positive effect on serotonin. Exercise acts as nature's tranquilizer by helping to boost serotonin in the brain. Studies have also shown that exercise triggers the release of epinephrine and norepinephrine, hormones that are known to boost alertness. For those who feel "stressed out" frequently, exercise can help to desensitize your body to stress.
What Are Other Benefits of Exercise for Those With Fibromyalgia?
Regular exercise benefits people with fibromyalgia by doing the following:
- Burning calories and making weight control easier
- Giving range-of-motion to painful muscles and joints
- Improving a person's outlook on life
- Improving quality of sleep
- Improving one's sense of well-being
- Increasing aerobic capacity
- Improving cardiovascular health
- Increasing energy
- Placing the responsibility of healing in the hands of the patient
- Reducing anxiety levels and depression
- Relieving stress associated with a chronic disease
- Stimulating growth hormone secretion
- Stimulating the secretion of endorphins or "happy hormones"
- Strengthening bones
- Strengthening muscles
- Relieving pain
What Types of Exercises Work Best for Fibromyalgia Symptoms?
Some new findings suggest that exercises such as walking, strength training, and stretching activities are effective at improving physical, emotional, and social function. They also are effective in addressing key symptoms in women with fibromyalgia who are also being treated with medication. Other studies point to long-term aquatic exercise programs -- such as water aerobics -- as being effective in reducing symptoms and improving the health-related quality of life of the participants.
As you begin your exercise program, there are three different types of exercise to consider:
- Range-of-motion or stretching exercises. These exercises involve moving a joint as far as it will go (without pain) or through its full range of motion. Range-of-motion exercises or stretching will help you maintain flexibility in your muscle groups. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about range-of-motion exercises. They can explain how to do these exercises properly and give you some guidance if you have difficulty performing the stretch.
- Endurance or conditioning exercises. When you increase your endurance threshold with cardiovascular forms of exercise such as walking, biking, or swimming, you do more than simply strengthen your muscles. You also condition your body, tone your muscles, and build coordination and endurance. In addition, endurance exercises help with weight loss.
- Strengthening exercises. These exercises help to build strong muscles and tendons needed to support your joints. Some studies show that strengthening exercises may improve fibromyalgia symptoms. Be cautious not to hurt yourself when doing strengthening exercises. A personal trainer or fitness expert can explain how to use resistance, starting slowly and increasing as you build your strength.
Check with your doctor to see what type of exercise program is right for you.