If you have fibromyalgia with painful trigger points, deep muscle pain, and fatigue, exercise is probably the last thing on your mind. Yet did you know that exercise may be just what the doctor ordered? Whether it’s daily walks, stretching routines, swimming, yoga, tai chi, or Pilates, low-impact exercise programs can keep you fit in spite of your fibromyalgia.
Why is exercise important for fibromyalgia?
Experts believe that exercising is essential for keeping muscles strong and flexible, controlling weight, and helping you stay active in other areas of life. In fact, exercise and activity allow patients to have some control over the disease and the amount of pain they feel.
I personally suggest water-aerobics or just swimming. This is a good no-impact way of exercising, without adding to your pain- and I guarantee you will sleep better after a day in the pool!
Any water therapy can give you good results. Water therapy strengthens and conditions as you move your body against the water. Water supports your weight during movement, which helps alleviate any impact on muscles and joints.
The water alleviates the force of gravity and provides buoyancy as well as mild resistance. Whether stretching in the water, using a kickboard as a flotation device as you push and kick, or swimming using slow, gentle strokes, water therapy can provide a gentle form of conditioning. That makes it quite beneficial for people with fibromyalgia.
Studies show that exercise helps restore the body’s neurochemical balance and triggers a positive emotional state. Not only does regular exercise slow down the heart-racing adrenaline associated with stress, but it also boosts levels of natural endorphins — pain-fighting molecules that may be responsible for the well-known “runner’s high.” Endorphins help to reduce anxiety, stress, and depression.
Studies have found that too much stress can lead to permanently low levels of serotonin. That, in turn, can create aggression. An increased level of serotonin in the brain is associated with a calming, anxiety-reducing effect. In some cases it’s also associated with drowsiness. A stable serotonin level in the brain is associated with a positive mood state or feeling good over a period of time. Lack of exercise and inactivity can aggravate low serotonin levels.
It appears that women may have a greater sensitivity to changes in this brain chemical. Mood swings during the menstrual cycle, menopause, or after 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” often, exercise will 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
* increasing 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
Low-impact aerobic exercises have been shown to improve symptoms and restore muscle strength in people with fibromyalgia. Some helpful exercises include:
* Yoga — an ancient form of exercise that can reduce stress and relieve muscular tension or pain by improving range of motion and strength. Practicing yoga for fibromyalgia when you are feeling tense or anxious may help you reduce stress and the risk of injury when you are on the job or at home.
* Tai chi — a series of flowing, graceful movements that can give you a good workout and stretching regimen. Studies show that tai chi participants also increase their sense of balance, can bend easier, and are better able to do household tasks. With fibromyalgia, tai chi can keep your back flexible and strong.
* Pilates — a form of exercise that focuses on breathing and strengthening the torso muscles. With Pilates, an instructor will help you work on postural muscles that are essential to supporting the spine.
it’s important to start slowly. Begin with stretching exercises and gentle, low-impact activity, such as walking, swimming, or bicycling. Muscle soreness is normal when you are just starting an exercise regimen. But if you have sharp pain, stop and call your doctor. You may have overworked or injured your muscles.
There are no particular exercises to avoid with fibromyalgia. Aerobic exercise (running, jogging), weight training, water exercise, and flexibility exercises can all help. Golf, tennis, hiking, and other recreational activities are also healthful. Some of these may be too intense or painful for you- everyone is different and if you have other medical problems or if you’re planning more than a moderate-intensity exercise program, make sure to discuss your plan with your doctor before you start.