If you have fibromyalgia, the condition can make strenuous physical activity difficult. If you’ve tried to exercise before, you may even have suffered a flare-up as a result of the exertion. However, being more physically active can help control your symptoms as well as improving your overall quality of life. To exercise when you have fibromyalgia, choose moderate, low-impact activities and take it slow. When you’ve chosen an exercise program you think might work for you, talk to your health care provider before you start.
Getting Basic Aerobic Exercise
1Start a walking regimen. Walking is a simple, low-impact activity that anyone can start doing anywhere. Start slow and stick to a moderate pace – one in which your breathing is slightly heavier but you’re still capable of carrying on a conversation.
- If you’ve been entirely inactive, try to start walking 10 minutes a day – preferably at an hour when the sun isn’t directly overhead and it isn’t too hot or too cold out. Treadmills also are a good option because you can control the environment as well as the incline.
- Gradually increase the time and distance of your walks. For example, after walking 10 minutes a day for a week, you might start walking 15 minutes a day. The week after that, walk for 20 minutes.
- Once you get to the point where you’re walking for a half hour or longer, you may want to take a day off between walking days to give your body a chance to recover.
2Go swimming. If you have access to an indoor pool, swimming can be a great low-impact way for you to exercise when you have fibromyalgia. The water also has a calming effect which may help ease your symptoms.
- If you don’t enjoy swimming laps, you might be able to find a gentle water aerobics class that you can take. Check your local swimming facility to see if they offer water exercise classes to learn safe and effective water exercises.
- Even if you’re not a skilled swimmer, you can get some exercise by holding onto the side of the pool at the shallow end and kicking.
- As long as you remain within your comfortable range of motion, you can do many exercises in the water. Try arm or leg circles, or walk across the pool while sweeping your arms.
3Try cycling. Cycling – whether outdoors or inside on a stationary bike – is another low-impact exercise you can enjoy if you have fibromyalgia. Stationary bikes may be better because you can control the resistance more easily than you can on a road or bike trail.
- If you’re starting a cycling regimen for the first time, treat it the same as walking. Only bike for 10 or 15 minutes a day at a low resistance to start. Gradually up the length of time you bike but keep the resistance low. Keep your pace moderate.
- Be cautious about adding resistance because you don’t want to over-exert yourself, which could lead to flare-ups.
4Leave a day or two between exercise sessions. With the exception of a brief 10- to 15-minute walk, you generally don’t want to exercise every day when you have fibromyalgia. Exercising two or three times a week with a day or two in between gives your body adequate time to recover.
- If you’re starting a new program, wait until you’re at your baseline – don’t start when you’re in the middle of a flare-up.
- Give yourself as much time as you need to adjust to your new exercise regimen, keeping in mind that during and after exercise you may notice increased discomfort. However, if the pain becomes unbearable you should stop immediately and allow your body to rest.
5Incorporate aerobic exercise into your daily life. One of the nice things about aerobic exercise is that it’s fairly easy to build brief spurts of it into your everyday routine without going out of your way to go to the gym or hit the treadmill.
- For example, when you’re out running errands you might park in a spot further away from the entrance so you can walk across the parking lot. You might also consider taking the stairs instead of the elevator if you’re only going to the second or third floor.
- Modify activities when you need to do so to accommodate chronic pain. For example, instead of chasing or lifting children, you might play with children on the floor or at a table.
- Being more active in your daily life will, over time, help reduce your pain and fatigue, enabling you to do more. Just remember to take a rest when you feel you need one and don’t overdo it.
1Stretch to cool down. If you have fibromyalgia and want to increase your flexibility, it’s better to stretch after you’ve exercised, when your muscles are fully warmed up. Trying to stretch before exercise can lead to additional pain as well as possibly damaging your muscles.
- Be gentle with your stretching and don’t force the stretch any further than you comfortably can. You want to feel the stretch, but the stretch itself shouldn’t hurt.
2Practice gentle yoga. Gentle yoga is not as strenuous as other types of yoga, moves more slowly, and ensures that your body is well-supported in every pose. The restorative qualities of gentle yoga as well as its focus on deep breathing and meditation can help ease chronic pain.
- Many yoga poses also have an energizing effect which can decrease your feelings of fatigue brought on by fibromyalgia.
- You should be able to find a gentle yoga class in your area, particularly if you live in a large- to medium-sized city or town. Do a quick internet search with “gentle yoga” and the name of the place where you live, or ask at your favorite gym or fitness club.
3Learn modifications. Some yoga poses can be difficult for any beginner, but especially for those suffering from a chronic pain condition such as fibromyalgia. However, all poses have modifications that allow you to safely perform the pose without additional pain or difficulty.
- Props such as yoga blocks, straps, and bolsters can help support you in positions and keep you from having to lean or stretch as far.
- Work with a yoga instructor who has experience assisting people with fibromyalgia or other chronic pain conditions, and take it slow. Don’t push yourself further than you are comfortable and don’t be ashamed to need to use a modification.
4Try tai chi. Studies have shown the slow, gentle movements of tai chi can help relieve pain and other symptoms of fibromyalgia. For some, it’s even better for increasing flexibility and easing symptoms than stretching or yoga.
- Look for a tai chi class near you with an instructor who has experience working with people who have fibromyalgia or other chronic pain conditions.
- Watch a class before you sign up, so you can get an idea of the movements involved and evaluate whether it’s something you think would benefit you. This also gives you an opportunity to talk to the instructor and other class members.
5Take a pilates class. Like tai chi, studies have shown that pilates can decrease the symptoms of fibromyalgia better than a regimen of relaxation and simple stretches. The practice is designed primarily to build core strength, while also increasing balance and flexibility.
- Pilates classes can get expensive, so try to find a community class rather than going to a studio, and interview instructors before signing up for a lot of classes. Choose an instructor who has experience working with people who have fibromyalgia or another chronic pain condition.
- You also could talk to your health care provider and see if they know of any pilates instructors they would recommend. This can be an easy way to find someone who understands the difficulties you might have with the program.
- Don’t try to do pilates at home on your own. The program requires a little guidance, especially when you’re just starting out, and if you’re not using correct form you may end up doing more harm than good.
Building Muscles with Strength Training
1Use lighter weights. You can still get a good workout and increase the strength in your muscles, which can help reduce the symptoms of fibromyalgia, if you use lighter weights between one and three pounds.
- If a one- or two-pound dumbbell is too much for you, start with objects around the house, such as a can of vegetables.
- Over time, you can gradually increase the weight, but be careful not to overdo it.
- Even with light weights, remember to rest a day or two in between workout sessions, especially if you’re strength training.
- You can work out different parts of your body on different days to ensure your muscles are getting the rest that they need. For example, you could work on your legs on Monday, your arms on Wednesday, and your core and back on Friday.
2Lift slowly. If you’re lifting weights, keep your movements slow and precise. This ensures that you’re carefully targeting the right muscles to increase strength without over-taxing your cardiovascular system, which can lead to fatigue.
- Stay in control of both the lifting and lowering of the weight, trying to do both with the same control and at the same speed. Don’t simply drop the weight.
3Decrease the range of motion in your exercises. If at all possible, you should try to do strength-training exercises with your full range of motion, as this will build the whole muscle more efficiently. However, if you can’t do that without pain, you can always shorten the movement.
- Make sure the movement you’re doing is one you can control. Don’t push yourself further if the exercise is causing you excessive pain. Learn to distinguish between fibromyalgia pain and pain coming from the exercise itself.
4Pay attention to technique. For strength-training exercises, using proper form is essential to ensure that you’re building muscle properly and not causing undo stress to your joints or surrounding muscles.
- If you have pain in particular places more than others, you may have the tendency to “guard” the muscles where the pain resides by cheating the form on an exercise. In the long run, this will do you more harm than good.
- You may want to work out with a trainer, at least at first, to ensure you’ve got the form down correctly. Once you have muscle memory and know proper technique, you can continue exercising on your own.
5Try fewer repetitions with a heavier weight. If you do a lot of repetitions with lower weights, your workout will take longer to complete and could result in over-fatigue or flare-up of symptoms. If you’re able to lift heavier weights, you can strength train more efficiently.
- For example, instead of doing two or three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions with a two-pound dumbbell, you might try doing two or three sets of 5 repetitions with a six-pound dumbbell.
- Keep in mind that being sore the day after a good workout is normal, and may have nothing to do with your fibromyalgia. You’ll have less soreness when your muscles are better conditioned.
6Pace yourself. When you have fibromyalgia, the most important thing about any kind of exercise, but particularly strength training, is to ensure that you’re allowing your body adequate time to rest and recover after each exercise session.
- Over-exerting yourself can make your symptoms worse or cause a flare-up.
- During your workout, pay attention to your body. If you feel the need to rest, do so. Don’t try to push yourself to exercise more when you’re feeling fatigued. Even if you need to take a brief rest after every repetition, the exercise you get will still be beneficial.
7Stay positive. Exercising when you have fibromyalgia is making a commitment to your health. While you may have a few flare-ups at first, keep going. Understand that you have made a choice to help yourself. Remind yourself to listen to your body’s needs. Stop if you feel too much pain, and avoid comparing yourself to others. You’re doing the right thing for you!
- Even just one set of a resistance exercise is helpful. Don’t be afraid to only take on what you can handle..