Why is exercise important for fibromyalgia?
All of our fibromyalgia experts agree that exercise is an essential tool to improve quality of life in patients with fibromyalgia. The effects of exercise include keeping muscles flexible and strong, helping control a healthy weight, and giving individuals the ability to stay active in other areas of life. Another reason to exercise is it often helps patients with the management of fibromyalgia symptoms, often increasing control over their pain symptoms.
Before modern research studies had been conducted on fibromyalgia, many doctors had the incorrect belief that exercise programs would in fact worsen or accelerate the condition. In the past patients with fibromyalgia were encouraged to rest, but recent evidence shows that strengthening, increasing range of motion, and aerobic exercises are not only safe – but vital to reduce chronic pain symptoms.
Exercise changes how pain is processed
It is well known that exercise can benefit mood, energy, weight loss, and improve sleep – but research also suggests that exercise for fibromyalgia patients actually causes positive changes in brain function. These changes are associated with pain processing, meaning that regular exercise may actually have the ability to change the course of fibro.
This effect of exercises on fibro is supported by a 2013 study in which healthy participants were severely limited on sleep an exercise. This occurred for a short 10-day period, after which symptoms such as pain, fatigue, mood, stress, and cognitive dysfunction were measured.
The results overwhelmingly showed that consistent sleep and exercise are crucial in preventing and improving widespread pain syndromes, such as fibromyalgia.
Physical function generally responds very quickly to aerobic exercise training. It is extremely common, especially in cases where fibro symptoms are severe and sleep as well as exercise seems futile, to become highly deconditioned. At Colorado Fibromyalgia Center, many of our patients with fibromyalgia no matter the severity of conditions have seen vast improvements in their body and mind with exercises such as stretching, aerobic exercises, strength training, and balance training.
There are some limitations with the kind of activity that patients participate in. Strengthening exercises are excellent for decreasing intensity of pain and improving physical function, but this alone does not always reduce stiffness and fatigue.
This is why we include stretching regiments along with strength exercises to take a more well-rounded approach, which works well for reducing stiffness. In terms of reducing fatigue through increased sleep, we recommend that our patients try the SANA Device. This tool is a non-addictive mask that uses a combination of visual and audio stimulus to produce a deeply calming effect. Many of our patients find that this is instrumental in falling and staying asleep, resulting in reduced fatigue.
How is serotonin related to women and fibro?
Studies have shown that women may have a greater sensitivity to changes in serotonin levels in the brain. Although there is only a small percentage of serotonin that is located in the brain compared to the rest of the body, roughly 1% – 2%, this chemical plays a crucial role in meditating moods.
There are a handful of factors that can have a positive effect on serotonin levels such as certain hormones, exercise, sunlight and specific foods. Too much stress can lead to lower levels of serotonin in the brain, which is associated with anxiety, insomnia, poor appetite, and poor memory. On the other hand, increased levels of serotonin in the brain are associated with calmness – almost like an anxiety reducing effect.
The key here is lack of exercise and inactivity, which studies show can be a trigger for lowered serotonin levels.
How can I get started exercising with fibromyalgia?
It is important for patients with fibromyalgia to take a “start slowly” approach when considering exercises, to prevent a flare. It is recommended to beginning with only a few minutes per day, starting with stretching exercises and low impact activities, such as swimming, walking, or cycling.
Depending on the individual, this “start slowly” approach could look like beginning with 3-5 minutes on day one, and progressing to 30 minutes over the course of a few months.
It is important to keep in mind that depending on an individual’s fibromyalgia symptoms, jumping right into these types of exercises may not be recommended. When seeking treatment at Colorado Fibromyalgia Center, we start off with light manual therapies that are designed to condition the body for the physical activity that will occur further down the road. Taking this approach that primes the body for physical activity, has shown to greatly improve the quality of life in many of our patients.
What forms of exercise should I try?
- Low-impact aerobic exercises: Research shows that regular aerobic exercise sessions reduce fatigue and pain in people with fibro. If you are not sure what an aerobic exercise is, you can think of it as any exercise that increases your heart rate and gets you breathing. Common examples of this are swimming, walking, water exercises classes, dancing, and cycling.
- Strength training: A combination of fatigue, pain and inactivity leads to weaker muscles, which is a very common symptom of fibromyalgia. Strength training is an excellent activity for building muscle strength back up. It is important to start strength training with a qualified professionally who understands fibro, to make sure that you are doing the safest and most effective exercises. It is crucial to learn to right form, and how much resistance to add. Our physical rehab specialists at CFC will help you to create a strengthening program that will help you reach your recovery goals – when your body is ready for increased activity.
- Stretching: Often times, patients have stiffness and decreased range of motion, which stretching exercises will be very beneficial. Yoga, tai chi, and Pilates have been shown to improve flexibility, balance, strength and overall feelings of calmness. Our specialists at CFC show our patients how to stretch properly, if stiffness and decreased mobility are present.
What exercises should I avoid?
The type of exercise to avoid will depend on the individual’s severity of symptoms. We always recommend talking with a fibromyalgia expert to help you make a plan for recovery.
What are some other benefits of exercise?
- Increasing energy
- Strengthening bones / muscles
- Pain relief
- Increased energy
- Improved cardiovascular health
- Improved outlook on life
- Restoring range of motion to joints
- Stress relief
- Release of endorphins, such as serotonin
I want to start an exercise plan!
If you are ready to start taking control of your symptoms, Colorado Fibromyalgia Center is here to help. Having improved the quality of life for countless patients with fibromyalgia, we understand the complexities and difficulties involved in treatment, and how to overcome them.
We would be thrilled to answer any questions about our clinic, please give us a call at (303) 665-8444 today!