Fibromyalgia and Exercise (Part II)

Last month, we started the conversation about the importance of exercise, and how it improves the quality of life for everyone, especially those with fibromyalgia (FM). We listed specific recommendations about how to go about implementing an exercise program safely and successfully but never finished the subject. Hence, here are some additional tips for getting started with exercise:

  1. Walk: Start with 5 minutes at a slow pace to determine your tolerance level. Gradually add speed and distance to a point where you might even consider alternating between a slow jog and walking. Who knows, maybe you’ll get so good at it, you can work up to a 1-, 5-, or 10-mile (~1.5-8 kilometer) run/walk! Entering “fun walk/run races” is a great way to meet people!
  2. Stretching: Though perhaps not as rewarding as aerobics, stretching feels good so intersperse it into your day—learn different stretches that can be done standing, sitting, as well as on the floor so you can do some of these in public places without being too conspicuous! Certain yoga poses work well!
  3. Water aerobics: Consider joining a water aerobics class. There is a lot to be said about working out in a group. It’s motivating, fun to share, and engaging! It takes the boredom away that some feel when working out alone. Also, when we exercise in water, we’re more buoyant and actually weigh less so there is less pounding on our joints, making it possible to do more strenuous exercises when compared to land-based exercises. A warm pool (around 88° F or about 31° C) works well because it’s more relaxing on the muscles! If that’s not available, look for a gym or health club with a hot tub you can relax in before and/or after the water exercise session.
  4. Muscle strengthening: At one time, this was not recommended for the FM patient but research has again proven that strengthening helps! When muscles are strengthened, function improves. Using light hand weights like 1-3 lbs (~.45-1.3 kg) vinyl covered dumbbells work great, as does TheraTube or TheraBand resistance exercises. Choose some daily activities that are currently difficult and make them into an exercise, eventually adding hand and/or ankle weights such as when rising from sitting or when taking a walk.
  5. Flexibility exercises: Choose exercises that address specific areas where you don’t have a lot of mobility. For example, if your knee bothers you, sit in a chair and slowly straighten out your leg to a full, locking position and then twice as slow, release the straight leg back to the knee bent starting position. Or if raising the arms is hard, start with some pendulum exercises, swinging a weight in circles, like the pendulum of a clock. We can help design a program that is specific for you.
  6. Stay motivated! It’s easy to talk yourself out of exercising, especially when FM is rearing its ugly head! Stay inspired, knowing exercise is like a drug—instead of popping a pill that may cause confusion or fatigue, go for a walk! Look for a FM support group, a partner to exercise with, set small realistic goals (write them down and check them off once accomplished). If you’re musically inclined, listen to your favorite symphony or jazz standard—sing or play along! Treat yourself to a movie or cuddle up with a good book.