Okay, now that you have that song stuck in your head…. If I’m being honest, I don’t always like to “move it”, especially when I’m in the middle of a flare. And of course, when I’m flaring, I don’t do any type of actual exercise, though I do still try to move around to prevent the inactivity/pain cycle that I talked about here. Movement has been the single biggest factor in my being able to move from just surviving each day to getting out and enjoying life again. Yeah, I know, you may be wanting to hit me with something right now….
When I say movement, I don’t necessarily mean doing things that we’d really consider exercise. Although ‘official’ exercise would certainly be included, it could be something as simple as moving around a little more than you currently move. This is actually a great starting point if you’re at that point where just taking a shower is so exhausting that you have to take a nap afterward. I’ve been there, and when you’re at that point, anything that even sounds like exercise can make you want to run and hide.
Most of us who have fibromyalgia have probably heard those dreaded words from our doctor at one time or another….”you need to exercise.” The reaction to that could be anywhere from disbelief to anger, or anything in between. We already feel terrible – why would we want to put our bodies through that? It may not be on our list of favorite things to do, but the benefits are clear: better sleep, mood regulation, stress reduction, a healthier cardiovascular system, and in the case of fibromyalgia, over time, it can help reduce pain levels.
The problem is that once we stop moving, it’s hard to get started again. We may not feel capable of it, or we may just not know where to start. Our starting point should always be with our doctor – yes, that same one who told us to exercise in the first place…. Many of us who have fibromyalgia also have other conditions as well, and our doctor is the one who knows about all our conditions, the medications we may take, our cardiovascular risks, etc. They are in the best position to recommend modalities of exercise and the levels we should be exercising at. They may even refer you to a Physical Therapist, who can help you ease into exercise at a level that helps minimize flares.
So what’s the best exercise for fibromyalgia? The short answer – the one you’ll do!
The bottom line is, no matter how great an exercise is, if we can’t do it consistently, it’s not going to help us. We have to find things that we enjoy and are able to stick to over time. Some of the basic categories of activities we might include in our exercise program would be:
- Activities of Daily Living (ADL’s) – These are the activities we need to be able to do in our day-to-day lives. This type of movement isn’t considered exercise – it’s actually the goal of a beginning exercise program – but if you’re at the point where you’re not feeling ready for any kind of ‘official’ exercise, this might be a great place to start.
- Aerobic Exercise – These are activities that get the heart rate up and keep it up for a period of time. These types of activities benefit the cardiovascular system and include things like walking, the elliptical trainer, and cycling. Most water exercise classes include an aerobic component, and warm-water exercise can be a wonderful way to get back into exercising.
- Muscular Endurance – These activities help train your muscles to “exert force against a resistance over a sustained period of time.” They include things like exercises using resistance bands or light weights with higher repetitions, but things like walking or Yoga can also help build up our muscular endurance.
- Muscular Strength – These are activities that increase the “maximal force a muscle or muscle group can exert during contraction.” These activities can include bodyweight exercises, machines, or free weights, and obviously, help us grow stronger.
- Flexibility – These activities help us gain/regain the “ability to move joints through their normal full ranges of motion.” They include things like stretching exercises, Yoga, or Tai Chi.
- Balance – These are activities that help us “maintain the body’s position over its base of support within stability limits, both statically and dynamically.” These types of activities might include things such as specific balance exercises, Yoga, Tai Chi or Qi Gong. They can be especially helpful for those of us who experience dizziness as part of our fibromyalgia.
This is not an all-inclusive list, and I’m certainly not suggesting you start out trying to do all of these at once. This is just to highlight a few of the activities we might find most helpful when trying to move more.
Things To Remember When Starting Your Exercise Program
- Consult your physician. I can’t emphasize this enough! Your doctor is in the best position to help you determine what is safest and most beneficial for you, and whether exercise is even appropriate for you. It’s helpful to have in mind what you’d like to do, and ask your doctor about the specific activities you’re considering. When I first started having the issue with my hips, I even took my book that outlined some exercises I wanted to try, and my doctor marked which ones were good and which ones might cause the issue to get worse.
- Have a meaningful goal for your exercise. “I want to feel better” might not be enough motivation to get you up and moving on those days when you just aren’t feeling it. Working toward something specific helps give you that push when you need it.
- Start slowly and work your way up. Right now, even dragging yourself out of bed may be a challenge. That’s okay – start where you are. Increase the amount of movement slowly, at a pace that’s right for you. At first, it may just be working toward being able to do more of those Activities of Daily Living we talked about. I started out just trying to do one thing, such as cooking dinner or doing one load of laundry.
- Give up the “all or nothing” mentality. So many times, we just want to do as much as we possibly can to help ourselves feel better and then end up feeling worse because we did too much. We don’t have to go “all in” on an exercise program to see benefits. We just have to do things that we can do consistently. This helps build up our endurance and lets us add other things as we improve.
- Listen to your body. Everyone’s experience of fibromyalgia is different. What works for someone else may not work for you. Pay attention to what your body is telling you, and adjust as needed.
- Find something you like to do. You’ll be much more likely to stick with an activity if you like it. Find something you enjoy doing and it won’t feel like punishment.
- Be kind to yourself. Go into this knowing that there will be days that you won’t feel up to exercising. Give yourself permission to take the rest day and not beat yourself up about it. Again, this doesn’t have to be an “all or nothing” thing. Do what you can, and don’t worry about the rest.
If you’ve been thinking about starting to exercise, I hope this is helpful for you. Thinking about starting to exercise can be scary and frustrating, but the benefits can be enormous. If you already exercise, what would you add to the “things to remember” list?
** All definitions taken from ACE Personal Trainer Manual, Fourth Edition, Cedric X. Bryant, Ph.D.,FACSM, and Daniel J. Green, editors, American Council on Exercise, 2010.