Fibromyalgia (FM) is a chronic, stubborn condition that many people struggle with – some to the point of being totally disabled from doing the things that are personally fulfilling. In the past, we have discussed how important it is to have a multi-disciplinary group of healthcare providers to help the FM patient manage this relentless condition. This month, we are going to look at the available research regarding FM patients who incorporate exercise into their lifestyle vs. those who do not!
There are MANY ways in which we can exercise – from simply contracting your abdominal muscles when you drive or sit at your desk to a full-body workout in a swimming pool. The KEY to exercise success is finding an exercise that you ENJOY, look forward to doing, and can foresee yourself doing for a long time into the future. To convince you of the benefits of exercise, let’s take a look at what has been published in peer-reviewed medical journals…
In a “systematic review” of randomized clinical trials regarding FM and exercise training, researchers reviewed relevant studies published between 1966 and 2000. They reported that aerobic exercise reduced the number of tender points and improved cardiovascular fitness, global well-being, fatigue, and sleep in participants. This review clearly demonstrates that exercise is a very important component in the self-management of FM.
Another study evaluated the effects of six months of pool-based exercises with six educational sessions in a 58 patient group that were divided between a treatment and a control group. They used a six-minute walking test, the Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire (FIQ), and several other tests and instruments that assess functional limitations, pain levels, social functioning, psychological distress, and quality of life. At the conclusion the trial, those who exercised experienced statistically significant improvement in ALL methods of assessment, CLEARLY demonstrating the importance of exercise!
A similar study looked at exercise benefits and how long they lasted after the activity was discontinued following a twelve-week program. During the twelve weeks, the researchers measured and reported significant improvements in all nine measurements (physical function, general health perception, vitality, social function, mental health, balance, stair climbing, bodily pain, and role-emotional). During follow-up, researchers found that participants were only able to maintain two of the health benefits three months after they stopped exercising! This study shows how important it is to KEEP UP with fitness in order to maintain the best long-term results.
Another study compared an aerobic exercise group vs. a group that only used relaxation and stretching techniques. The aerobic exercise group outperformed the stretch/relaxation group at the three-month point, and after one year, they reported a greater reduction of tender points and greater improvement if FIQ scores. The researchers concluded, “Prescribed graded aerobic exercise is a simple, cheap, effective, and potentially widely available treatment for FM.”
There are MANY more studies that support the use of exercise as a very important form of care for FM. The common thread is this – a structured, patient-specific, graded aerobic exercise leads to an improved quality of life for the FM sufferer.