Exercising with Fibromyalgia
Kymberly Williams-Evans, MA and Alexandra Williams, MA
Dear my fave twins: My goal is to get more fit. I want to build muscle and increase flexibility while being careful of my body because I have fibromyalgia. How do I pick which types of exercise will meet my goals, besides just alternating through them all? What that looks like for me right now is a brand-new-to-me yoga-pilates class, low-moderate intensity walks when it’s nice enough to do so, my exercise bike, and then at-home yoga, stretching, small dumbbells, and body weight exercises like crunches. I might want to try hula hooping or other classes at the gym where yoga is. Kristine from Vancouver, WA
Mind/Body Modes Help Alleviate Fibromyalgia Symptoms
In short, the variety of exercise modes you are self-selecting is just about spot on for someone with your condition and fitness goals. Pilates and mind-body activities (such as yoga, Tai chi, qigong, and meditation) are particularly good for minimizing fibromyalgia pain. Your moderate intensity walks, hula hooping, and biking will meet your cardio need; the body and free weight workouts will target your muscle strength and endurance; while the stretching and yoga will help your flexibility. You have covered the three key categories for overall fitness with these activities. As long as you include something from each category at least twice a week you are in the effective and safe zone. Sounds like baseball all of a sudden. Yooooouuuuu’re SAFE!
Core Moves Without a Lot of Flexion Beat Out Crunches
Alexandra: I would suggest some other core exercise instead of the crunches. Since you want to be more fit (you didn’t mention wanting a certain “look” to the abs), you will gain more strength with other choices. For example, I refer you to two no-crunch posts we did (with video) that won’t put strain on your neck or head: No Head or Neck Strain I and No Head or Neck Strain II. Click on both these videos and the links we added for more on the relationship between fibromyalgia, pain reduction, and exercise.
Low to Moderate Intensity is Best
You are smart to take on low to moderate intensity, as the Mayo Clinic has found that “short bouts of physical activity throughout the day may prove beneficial for fibromyalgia sufferers.” So when you are planning your workouts, you might consider sprinkling them throughout the day rather than doing everything at once. I wonder if knitting after some of your harder workouts would be a clever way to minimize any muscle/ ligament/ tendon pain simply by virtue of distracting you? That would be an interesting study, especially as research has already proven that people report lower levels of pain when their minds are elsewhere (I know I fantasized about killing my husband when I was in labor, heh heh heh).
Fitness Classes May Help More than Home Workouts
Kymberly: Fibromyalgia exercisers do well to achieve an intensity level where they are short of breath while still able to speak in short phrases. As for whether you should alternate between the types of workouts you mention, we say “absolutely!” If you are someone who likes variety, then you have the right mix for you. If you try a new activity such as hula hooping (is that even a verb? OK, let’s make it so) and you start to feel pain or fatigue related to your fibromyalgia, check with your medical pro, take a break from that mode, and go back to what did work for you. Your idea to attend classes is also particularly good as a limited study on the effects of Pilates on fibromyalgia suggested that exercise participants might adhere to their program under instructor supervision better than those working out at home. Group classes rule!
Lastly, our all time favorite advice when it comes to what kind of exercise is best–whether directed to someone with fibromyalgia or not–is to do the types of workouts you will actually do. The more kinds you like, the better!
Pedestrian and Garden Path Photos courtesy of MorgueFile.com.
Other photos courtesy of Kymberly
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