Fibromyalgia affects 1.5-2 million people within the UK. It causes pain, disability, and lowers a person’s quality of life. Fibromyalgia is typically treated with medication, but exercise can be a great way to help cope with the pain of this debilitating condition. In this article, we’re going to discuss the key benefits of exercise for fibromyalgia.
What Is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia, also known as fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS), is a chronic condition that causes widespread pain over the body.
People living with fibromyalgia typically experience extreme fatigue, headaches, reduced concentration, muscle stiffness, sleep issues, increased pain sensitivity, and bowel problems.
Fibromyalgia is believed to be caused by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain. It is often triggered by an emotional or physical stressor.
Adverse Effects of Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia causes widespread pain all across the body. This can lead to chronic pain, disability, and reduced quality of life. Fibromyalgia can also have further adverse health effects:
- Depression: People with fibromyalgia are three times more likely to suffer from depression.
- Suicide: Suicide rates increase in those with fibromyalgia.
- Co-conditions: Fibromyalgia typically exists with other rheumatic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
- Hospital admissions: People with fibromyalgia are two times more likely to be admitted to the hospital.
Benefits of Exercise for Fibromyalgia
Chronic fatigue and muscle pain aren’t the best combinations for exercise, but performing some physical activity can benefit those with fibromyalgia.
Increased Endorphins and “Happy Hormones”
Exercise is a proven way to increase serotonin, also known as the “happy hormone”. Serotonin helps regulate our mood, happiness, and a general feeling of well-being.
Exercise also increases our body’s natural endorphins, also known as the “runners high”. These endorphins help regulate our brain’s chemical balance to put us into a positive emotional state. Increased levels of these endorphins can help reduce stress, depression, and anxiety.
Fibromyalgia has been linked to increased rates of suicide and depression. Including exercise into a client’s routine can help reduce these high rates by putting the brain into a positive, healthy mindset.
Improved Aerobic Capacity
Aerobic exercise has been shown to improve a person’s aerobic capacity or endurance. Increasing your endurance enables you to perform day-to-day tasks with fewer difficulties. Think running for a bus, or chasing the kids around the garden. Increased endurance can also help relieve pain associated with fibromyalgia.
Aerobic exercise can be anything form of physical activity that increases your heart and breathing rate. For example, a brisk walk, run, swim, bike, or exercise class. Exercise intensity can vary from moderate to high-intensity workouts. For those with fibromyalgia, moderate-intensity exercise may be more appropriate when there are strong feelings of fatigue.
Resistance training has been shown to increase skeletal muscle size and strength. Improving our strength also allows us to perform day-to-day tasks with fewer difficulties. Think opening a jar, or lifting a bag overhead. Studies have shown people living with fibromyalgia report reduced fatigue and increased mood after resistance exercise. Resistance training programs should be personalised to ensure clients aren’t putting themselves at risk of injury.
Improved Quality of Sleep
Insomnia is very common in people with fibromyalgia. Sleep disturbances can amplify their symptoms thus causing increased pain. Increased pain can cause further sleep problems, causing a vicious cycle to be formed. Exercise helps improve sleep quality and quantity. Be careful not to perform high-intensity exercise too close to bedtime as this can make it more difficult to get to sleep.
Improved Quality of Life
The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases recommends exercise as one of the most useful treatments for fibromyalgia. Not only does exercise reduce pain associated with fibromyalgia, but it also makes everyday life that little bit easier. While exercise can’t cure fibromyalgia, it can reduce its debilitating effects on life.
What Type of Exercise Is Best For Those With Fibromyalgia?
People with fibromyalgia often find they’re in too much pain or too fatigued for exercise. This raises the question as to which type of exercise is best for those with fibromyalgia. Put simply, any exercise appropriate for that specific individual is best. However, higher intensity exercise may be off-putting for many people. Therefore, lower intensity exercises such as yoga, walking, and swimming are typically recommended. Our main aim is to program activities that are sustainable over the long term, even when clients are fatigued or sore.
We explore the exercise guidelines and considerations for people living with Fibromyalgia inside our online education platform. Join us to explore this condition further.
Exercise is used to improve a person’s quality of life and reduce their adverse health risks. For people with fibromyalgia, exercise can help alleviate pain and soreness. Many people with fibromyalgia are deterred from exercise due to their chronic fatigue and pain. Therefore, low-impact exercises such as yoga, walking, and swimming are typically recommended. It’s important to ensure clients can sustain their exercise program even when they don’t feel physically prepared.