March 29, 2010 -- Exercise may be the last thing you feel like doing if you
are among the 10 million Americans living with the chronic pain disorder
fibromyalgia. Yet a new study shows that incorporating short bursts of physical
activity into the day makes fibromyalgia patients feel and function better. The
findings appear in Arthritis Research & Therapy.
"Just trying to accumulate a little more physical activity throughout the
normal course of the day, as opposed to engaging in traditional exercise, can
improve self-reported measures of functioning and pain among people with
fibromyalgia," lead researcher Kevin Fontaine, PhD, an assistant professor of
rheumatology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, tells WebMD in an email.
"You don't necessarily have to do traditional exercise to reap some benefits,
[and] this may motivate people with fibromyalgia who find it difficult to stick
with traditional exercise to simply try to get a little more active during the
In the 12-week study of 84 people with fibromyalgia, people who incorporated
30 minutes' worth of lifestyle physical activity into their days five to seven
days a week took 54% more steps per day than their counterparts who
participated in a fibromyalgia education program, which discussed the
importance of physical activity in the treatment of this disease, but did not
provide any specific recommendations. The lifestyle physical activity group
also reported fewer perceived deficits in their physical function and less pain
than people in the disease education group, the study showed.
Lifestyle physical activity refers to finding ways to accumulate short
bursts of physical activity into the day. This can be walking more, gardening,
taking the stairs, or really anything that gets you moving more. The current
school of thought suggests that such small bursts of exercise throughout the
day can be as effective as exercising for 30 consecutive minutes.
"There is probably no single good or best exercise or lifestyle physical
activity prescription for people with fibromyalgia because there is such
variability in symptoms between people," he says. "For many, walking is
helpful, but some may prefer water exercise or cycling."
The bottom line? "The best exercise or lifestyle physical activity is the
one that a person can stick with and one that doesn't significantly worsen
their symptoms," Fontaine says. "The main thing is for people with fibromyalgia
to try to do something physical just about every day."