Benefits of Exercise for Treating Fibromyalgia

Benefits of Exercise for Treating Fibromyalgia

Why do I continue to believe in the benefits of exercise for those living with fibromyalgia and related conditions? Because of the increase of healthy neurochemicals and blood flow, the resulting increased self-confidence, and reduction in pain levels. We know through experience and through various studies that exercise is not only an essential remedy but also much different than many activities of daily living that can be difficult or even detrimental to the fibro body.  

Update: Nature Offers A Free Bonus to Everyone Who Exercises

That’s what I said, EVERYONE, not just fibro people. There are quite a number of studies now regarding the positive results of exercise for various diseases, including fibro, but also the risk reduction in “all-cause” mortality; that’s the risk of dying from any disease. You want to live longer? I thought so.

Let me give you the results of one of those studies published May 19, 2019 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine and presented simultaneously at the American College of Sports Medicine 2019 Annual Meeting. This publication contains “peer reviewed” articles. I actually learned of this in the May 29, 2019 Issue of Medscape, a daily medical newsletter I follow faithfully.

Have you heard that we should all walk 10,000 steps per day? I think most people have and the makers of the fitness watches, smartphone apps, and other devices that monitor the wear’s steps per day must have heard this as they use 10,000 steps per day as a target. Well it turns out there’s no reliable science to justify that number!

The study included 16,741 women who had a mean age of 72 and who had a mean step count per day of 5499. Researchers followed the women for over four years. Results were compared to women who took the fewest steps per day (2718). The risk for all-cause mortality progressively fell by 15% for each additional 
1000 steps/day; however, this benefit leveled off at about 7500 steps per day.

For example: Women who took 4363 steps per day had a 41% decreased risk for all-cause mortality; the risk decreased by 46% at 5905 steps/day; and decreased further by 58% for women who took the most steps/day,8442.

So folks, while you are doing your fibro exercises and grumbling about it, just remember that you are not only “fixing” your fibro, you’re working on a longer life; that should make you “smile from the heart“.

I recommend a fitness program because I know it’s the single fibromyalgia treatment that can make the greatest improvement in your quality of life. It is well verified, but must be approached the right way. I know because I’ve “been there and done that” many times over.  

Of the five elements of the treatment protocol I developed for myself and others, the aerobic and range of motion exercises and especially my strength exercise routines made the biggest difference in overall pain levels and other symptoms.

The problem fibro people have with exercise is the initial discomfort and even fibro flares. That’s why I include a protocol element I label as the “mind body connection”. It provides guidance on techniques such as meditation, and deep breathing to help you stick with a consistent fitness program.

This page is intended to “shine a light” on particularly important benefits of exercise to encourage you to commit to your own fibro fitness program.  I will continue to update this “Benefits of Exercise for Treating Fibromyalgia” page often with new discussions about exercise studies and fibromyalgia symptoms that can be mitigated thru a safe, effective fibro fitness program so you can share the benefits of exercise for fibromyalgia that many of us have experienced, yes even with severe fibromyalgia and co-conditions. 

But now, let me bring you the results of a Cochrane Library scientific study of the “benefits of exercise for treating fibromyalgia syndrome“.

“Benefits of Exercise for Treating Fibromyalgia Syndrome”

An ongoing exercise program designed for fibro people becomes a “gift” that keeps on giving.

The Cochrane Library is the “gold” standard for scientific articles. They endeavor to pursue a truly objective approach. One of their standards is to provide an assessment of the “quality” of the data used in a submitted article or study. 

This is very important since many if not most fibro studies are funded by Big Pharma looking for evidence to support their brand of an FMS drug. Cochrane Library levels the playing field.

This Cochrane Library Review [1] looked at 34 studies with 2276 participating fibromyalgia subjects. The study provided major results for two types of exercise:

1) moderate aerobic training for a 12-week period.

2) strength training for a 12-week period

The results were based on a comparison to “no training” in each case.  Those results were:

Aerobic Training:

  • overall feeling of well-being improved 7%
  • physical capacity improved because oxygen intake capacity improved
  • the number of active tender points was reduced by two
  • pain was reduced 13%

NOTE: Based on my personal experience, I expect that intense vs the “moderate” aerobics used in this study will result in much larger improvements. Such a program would have to be well thought out (start with mild and progress thru moderate to intense aerobics) and include adequate “recovery” periods. 

Strength Training:

  • pain was reduced by one-third to one-half (35% to 49%)
  • improved overall feeling of well-being by 41%
  • the number of active tender points was reduced by two
  • large improvement in depression in those affected by this condition

This Cochrane study avoided speculating on the effects for programs over 12-weeks in length, fatigue, morning stiffness or sleep issues as the quality of data in these areas was limited with one exception:

  • only 9 participants out of each 100 (9%) were unable to complete the strength training course.

I would add that in my personal experience, an ongoing exercise program of both aerobics and strength training becomes a “gift” that keeps on giving for fibro people. Not only will it lead to more good days than bad ones, but you will also learn to correlate particular exercises or subroutines with particular fibro symptoms relief. When I have a fibro flare, I actually use this knowledge to reduce the pain or other symptoms I’m experiencing. This knowledge comes with consistent adherence to your exercise program.  In the future, I intend to share the details of my personal protocol in this area.

Benefits of Exercise for Clinical Depression

Although the above study did not quantify the effect on depression, it did describe the effect as “large” improvement.

As I discussed in the “Treatment for Fibromyalgia with Serotonin” article here on this website, other studies have quantified the benefits of exercise for depression. In fact a United Kingdom Agency, the National-Institute-for-Health-and-Clinical-Excellence [2] has published a guide recommending the use of exercise, rather than anti-depressants, for the treatment of mild to moderate clinical depression.  An exercise session of only 40-minutes can have reliable, immediate results on mood.

Exercise and GI Tract Health  

When living with a chronic illness like fibromyalgia we are faced with the challenge of finding the right exercise that will be both safe AND effective. When we are too sedentary, we tend to create additional problems due to stagnation in the body in every system of the body that depends on a healthy amount of blood flow and force. The lymphatic system depends on exercise and movement as it has no pump of its own like the heart does.
The GI tract also depends on regular exercise in order to “stay regular” In other words, to keep the food and waste (toxins) moving along.

Do you suffer with a feeling of fullness or trapped gas on a daily or weekly basis? When we exercise, the body has a greater ability to release gas and move waste along. When we become constipated, this affects the entire GI tract. We not only feel bad (exacerbating all symptoms in fibro) but we can begin to suffer with malabsorption and altered gut bacteria.

As a colon therapist and fitness trainer, this is an often talked about subject when working with clients and here online as well. There is not only an increase in various intestinal diseases nowadays but with more chronic pain syndromes on the rise, we need to be aware of how to counteract this catch 22.

If you are in pain and you take meds for that pain, you may be creating more undesired side effects like constipation and abdominal pain. This makes it even harder to exercise.  Pain, side effects and constipation don’t exactly make you want to go to the park or to the gym, particularly when symptoms are really “waxing”.

The intestinal tract can also become sluggish when we are not getting proper sleep, and because lack of regenerative sleep is such a big issue with fibromyalgia, this can be yet another “variable” that can slow down our GI tract and our ability to move and strengthen our bodies as needed. (see the “Sleep Help” article link at bottom of this page for suggestions) Both the endocrine system (including liver and thyroid) and the GI tract are dependent on quality sleep.

When designing a fitness plan, we need to include a healthy amount of movement. The cardio portion of a fibro safe and effective exercise plan is the one area that will most vary, as we all have different preferences when it comes to cardio type exercise. Whatever you do, try to incorporate at least 20 minutes or more every day (or at least 6 days a week) of good, blood-flowing cardio exercise. This may include brisk walking, biking, moderate running, running-in-place, hiking, Zumba, tennis, low impact aerobics, structured swimming, basketball, etc.

When we move and breathe, we increase not only blood flow and lymphatic movement, but oxygen as well, and this increase of oxygen to cells will help to support the small intestine and the colon. One of the best things to do for indigestion or constipation is to get moving.

Living with fibromyalgia and other conditions myself since a young age, I see the importance of regular, consistent exercise but also the importance of keeping it safe and effective.

Start slow, possibly walking for 10-minutes a day at your own pace, then turn around and walk home. Incorporate some hills (incline) if possible to activate muscles during the walk. Add 1-minute every week. If that is too difficult, start with 5-minutes initially.

This will work for you if you’re consistent and increase your goal each week, and you too can experience the benefits of exercise for treating fibromyalgia.

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