For some people, fibromyalgia (FM) can make life miserable. In some cases, it can be so bad a person will spend the majority of the day in bed! When FM is this intense, exercises MUST be tailored accordingly – like starting out with exercises that can be done in bed! Initially, you may only be able to exercise for one to two minutes, but slowly, your tolerance will improve! Here are some “steps” that one may consider for implementing exercise into the FM sufferer’s lifestyle.
STEP 1: POSITIVE ATTITUDE: It’s easier said than done to have a “positive attitude” about anything, much less exercise when FM has its grip on you! In fact, depression is a BIG problem with most FM patients. Both studies and experience have shown that exercise is one of the most effective ways to treat FM. This is because exercise benefits ALL of our bodily functions from the brain to the heart, lungs, muscle/joints, and gut! It even benefits symptoms like fatigue, depression, and sleep problems. It helps bone density, improves balance, increases strength, controls weight, and reduces stress! As one FM patient said, “…this may be the last thing you feel like doing, but you have to believe that it really does help.”
STEP 2: START SLOWLY: Just like training for a marathon, you DON’T begin with a ten-mile run! You have to increase the distance and pace gradually. With FM, a person needs to steadily work into exercise because the post-exercise pain (that you should expect initially) may scare them away from continuing and/or make them even more hesitant about trying it again. Consider an initial one-to-two minute routine and gradually add more time and distance to that, ramping up the intensity and duration of exercise over time! Remember, it may take 15 weeks to reach a 30-minute goal of treadmill walking, elliptical use, or swimming. Consider taking stairs, doing household chores, grocery shopping, and gardening/yard work as part of your fitness routine. It doesn’t have to be a formal exercise program!
STEP 3: LISTEN TO YOUR BODY: Even if you were very active before FM entered your life, you must learn not push it beyond the “reasonable boundaries” of your usual activity tolerance. Take breaks when necessary and closely monitor how you feel. Your goal is to AVOID FRUSTRATION by NOT over-exercising! Keep track of what you do and how you feel so that you can refer back to such information when needed.
STEP 4: EXERCISE DAILY: Make it a point to walk. Walk the dog (or your neighbor’s), take the stairs, park further away from stores, and INCLUDE these activities as part of your workout! When you say, “I worked out today,” you don’t have to explain yourself to everyone! Consider cycling, walking/running, low-impact yoga or Palates classes, or light weight-lifting. A local gym or class may be a perfect match for what you are looking for!
STEP 5: MODIFY THE WORKOUT: Mix it up so it’s not boring! Figure out when you feel best and exercise then. For many FM patients, this is between 10am and 3pm. Include some stretches, balance tasks, vary the stride and/or speed, ease into strength training, pace yourself, and rest when needed.
STEP 6: BE PATIENT: This cannot be overemphasized as it’s easy to get frustrated. It can take up to six months before the FM patient may start to feel a change in their symptoms! Patiently work towards realistic goals – Exercise is the #1 best long-term FM treatment method!