It has long been known that exercise is a great way to tone down the frequency and severity of symptoms for patients with Fibromyalgia. It is not understood why, by one reason may be that exercise can increase serotonin production/release in an area of the brain, where Fibromyalgia is now known to originate. Here’s a very basic range of exercises to help you on your way. Choose those exercises that you feel you’re capable of, and keep in mind that you can progress to more challenging exercises as time goes on and your body gets used to exercise.
The best way to start, whether you have Fibro or not, is slow. If you’re going from couch potato to moving around, start small and work your way up based on what you’re capable of. Don’t be afraid to push yourself, but keep in mind that increases in frequency, intensity, time, and type of exercise (known as the FITT formula) should only happen at a rate of 10% per week for one of these at a time – in other words, you can start with two walks a week of 10 minutes duration, and the following week, increase it to 11 minutes. Or, you can start at 10 minutes a day of walking, and move on to walking faster/further in that 10 minutes the following week.
Frequency – how often you exercise per week or per day
Intensity – how much effort you put into exercise, such as speed, distance, or weight.
Type – literally what type of exercise you’re doing; cardio, weight-bearing including weights, Zumba, yoga, aquatics, dance, etc.
Time – how long you exercise at a time.
The Canadian recommendations are to exercise for a minimum of half an hour per day. This exercise can be broken up into 2 or 3 10-minute sessions a day. Keep in mind that this is a great starting goal, but the more you exercise, the more relief you will get, and the better your body will be able to handle daily activities. For couch potatoes, starting with whatever you can handle, even if it’s 5 minutes a day to start with, is a start. Do not go gung-ho thinking that jumping right into a 1-hour run is going to accelerate your progress; you will likely find yourself hating it, unable to stick to it, and frustrated.
The very best exercises for those with Fibro who have not been active at all are:
- Walking in a pool
- Light cycling
- Aquafit classes for pain management, or a general class but at a basic level
- Yoga at a basic level
- Dynamic stretching (stretching through movement, such as arm swings, leg swings, etc.)
- Tai Chi
- Beginner strength and conditioning classes
- Other light exercise routines and classes
Joining up with a friend, your partner, your kids, or walking with your dog are great ways to keep you committed to your physical activity goals.
AFFORDABLE WAYS TO GET FIT
YouTube offers some great yoga videos, including 30-day challenges, daily workouts, and more. You can also find lots of other routines on YouTube to help guide your physical activity, such as stretching, aquafit, walking/urban poling, and more. Don’t be afraid to spend some time looking around for what works for you. If you have a backyard pool, summer is the perfect time to start doing some basic moves in your own backyard pool! Also, depending on where you live, the YM/YWCA, city gyms/pools, and other gyms/pools may offer a discount or free membership if you’re on disability or have low income. The Y has subsidized memberships that may only cost you $10 a month for full facility access, or it may even be free. Making a few phone calls will save you running around, and will point you in the right direction to find cheap or free gym passes. Look for a gym with a pool, as water has 10x the pressure of air, so even just walking around in the shallow end in the cool water can help decrease inflammation, particularly when you’re having a flare-up.
For home-based exercise, getting a ballast ball (an exercise ball with 3 lbs of sand in it) will give you an excellent start – you really don’t need much more if you’re on a shoestring budget. With a ball, you can do some serious stretching, yoga poses, and even some resistance/strengthening exercises. I’m a Certified Personal Trainer with the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP), and my home gym contains a BOSU ball (for balance and strength training), a ballast ball, a mirror, an exercise/yoga mat, a set of hand weights from 3 lbs up to 25 lbs, and a spin bike. I used to train my clients in my home gym, and while I had a full functional machine, most of my clients had better technique and results from these simple tools (even those who were military, triathletes, runners, and other serious athletes!). Keep in mind that you really don’t want to run out and buy a ton of equipment right off the bat. Start small, and set goals (such as walking for half an hour a day). Then set up rewards for yourself, whether it’s new shoes, that ballast ball, a small set of hand weights, etc., and when you attain your goals, reward yourself!
The only person who can decide what you’re capable of is you. If you’ve been a couch potato because of your pain, have musculoskeletal problems (problems with joints, arthritis, etc.) or have asthma or a heart condition, it’s even more important to start slow. Ask yourself how often and how long you’d like to be able to do a given exercise in a week’s time, a month’s time, two months’ time, a year’s time, etc, and write it down. Tell people what your goals are. Associate your goals with rewards! This makes it more likely that you’ll stick to them. Perhaps you just want to be able to walk for forty-five minutes a day in six month’s time. Perhaps you want to be able to participate in an organized walk/run in a year’s time (many runs also offer a walker option). Whatever your goal is, start small and build by 10% per week in one facet of fitness from the FITT formula, and if you stick to it, you’ll succeed, and in no time you’ll be reaping the benefits of your efforts. You’ll find over time that you have fewer flare-ups and less frequent flare-ups that are less intense than they used to be. I guarantee you, EXERCISE WORKS! Be patient with yourself and your program, and you will see results.
SPECIFIC EXERCISES FOR BEGINNERS
If you’re ready for more than a beginner routine, there are some great body-weight exercises you can do either at home or at the gym with no equipment at all.
- Planks: start with the easiest planks, then build to the more difficult positions. Perform front and side planks every time you work out (3 times a week to start). If you’re not sure how to do planks, YouTube it!
- Reverse Push-Ups: with your thumbs just under your shoulders, start in either an upper knee, or a full pushup position. Then, very slowly lower yourself to the ground. Start with either as many as you’re capable of if you’re just starting up, or just 6 of these, and build. Remember the 10% per week rule!
- Tricep Dips: if you have stairs in your house, you can easily train those tris! On the first step, with your legs extended in front of you, keep your upper body straight with your head facing straight ahead, and your legs nice and straight. Lean the palms of your hands on the first step, with your hips in front of the step. On a 3-count, lower and raise yourself up and down. Again, start slow, and follow the 10% rule; as these become easier you can move up to the second step!
- Squats – please look these up on YouTube for proper technique. A perfect squat can be achieved by looking straight ahead of you, keeping your upper body as upright as possible, feet shoulder width apart and pointing straight ahead; extending your arms in front of you can help you keep your balance. If you have a ballast or exercise ball, this can be easier by putting the ball behind your back against the wall and leaning against it to squat. *DO NOT do squats if you have knee problems!*
This is a very basic routine, which can be performed 2-3 times a week and built up in the number of times you repeat each exercise. Each exercise can be developed into more complex and challenging exercises (i.e. reverse push-ups from the knees can progress to reverse push-ups from the toes, then full push-ups from the knees, then full push-ups from the toes). It works a variety of muscles in your body, and when coupled with one of the full-body exercises listed, is a great way to stay in shape and start diminishing your symptoms and reducing your risk of injuries in everyday life. Allow a day’s rest each time you do this routine to let your muscles recover.
*make sure to consult your doctor before starting any new exercise regime. If you haven’t done these exercises before, do some research on YouTube and look for tutorials on each exercise. Proper form is absolutely essential to avoid injuries – better to do 1 perfect repetition than twelve with incorrect form! Also, remember to gently stretch afterwards!