Most people associate painkilling with a variety of over-the-counter or prescribed medications. But drugs aren't the only means to improving your fibromyalgia symptoms. Getting physical by starting a plan of exercising can work well, too, although exercising may seem like a sort of strange way to gain pain relief. Gentle, low-stress, paced exercising can make you feel better, loosening muscles and greasing your stiff joints and possibly acting as a preventive measure to ease your pain down the road.
Some studies have indicated that people with fibromyalgia have a fitness level that's significantly lower than levels found among people who don't have fibromyalgia. (Not that amazing when you think about it — people with FMS generally feel pretty bad, so are less likely to be physically fit.) Regular exercise may help people with FMS to close that gap, although not in a few days or even in a few weeks. Be patient and persistent, and you'll get there.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you gear up to exercise:
1 Create a basic fitness program that suits your needs. Realize also that if you were more athletic in the past, as many people with fibromyalgia report that they were, that was then. Make a plan that works for you now.
1 Set a realistic goal. Whether exercise goals are set by a physician, a physical therapist, a personal trainer, or anyone else (including you), the goals for a person with fibromyalgia shouldn't be the same as for a person who doesn't have fibromyalgia, because people with FMS have a lower pain tolerance and tire faster than others. Too much exercise, too fast, can accelerate the pain. Physical expectations need to be scaled down considerably for the person who has FMS.
Watch out what type of exercises you perform. Research has shown that static exercise (like weight lifting) compared to dynamic exercise (like running) can cause significantly increased pain for people with FMS, although the cause is unknown. Walking and swimming are better exercise choices for people with FMS than weight lifting.
1 Consult your physician before you start a new exercise program. Your doctor may want to check out your overall fitness level with a treadmill test or other screening measures. She may also listen to your plan, nod wisely, and then give you the thumbs up, wishing you well.
1 Start slowly and steadily build your way up. Start with five minutes a day, several times a week (except for walking, which can be for longer periods). Then every four or five days or so, add a minute of exercise. Keep adding minutes, until you're up at a half-hour for three to four days per week. You can also increase the speed at which you perform your exercises, gauging how fast to go by your own comfort level.
Note: When it comes to walking, many people with FMS should be able to follow the walking program in the "Walking off the pain and strain of fibromyalgia" section later in this chapter, walking up to 60 minutes after 12 weeks. However, even daily walks that last only minutes are helpful. Walking is a moderate, steady type of exercise; you can walk for a longer period than you can perform reps of strenuous exercises.
tt Keep it simple. Consider the simple exercises offered in this chapter, which can help you build up strength and cut back your pain level without breaking your bank on expensive gym memberships.
t Don't overdo it! Now isn't the time to adopt "No pain, no gain!" as your motto. It simply doesn't work for people with fibromyalgia. A little discomfort is okay and sweating is good. But actual pain? Forget it.
Prepare for exercising by drinking plenty of fluids and making sure that you dress comfortably and appropriately. Skip the spandex pants and tight T-shirts. Wear something loose fitting. Wear good, comfortable walking shoes. Don't worry about the fashion police. Assume that they've taken the day off.
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