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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Mission 2011: Fibromyalgia Redefines Exercise


Fibromyalgia fundamentally changes your relationship with your body.

One of the greatest losses that I deal with on an ongoing basis is my inability to do whatever I want, whenever I want. I simply don't have the energy to live the active life I used to lead.

Yet one of the great paradoxes in the current state of fibromyalgia treatment is the recommendation of regular exercise as a means to manage symptoms.

I think that what many of the people making this recommendation forget is that fibromyalgia makes each and every activity during the day into exercise. Or that chronic pain and chronic fatigue makes everything in life more difficult to do, especially when it comes to physical activities. They don't acknowledge that physical activities may need to be modified so that pain and fatigue are not aggravated or made worse. Nor do they talk about the very troublesome problem of postexertional fatigue, that very tardy message from your body telling you did way too much yesterday.

Trying to figure out the how's, what's, when's and where's of making exercise fibro-friendly can be daunting. For starters, you need to start looking at exercise in a whole different way. I mean, you can't just stroll into the gym like you could before, work out for half an hour and expect to feel okay over the next 72 hours. Exercise means something completely different when you have fibromyalgia.

So for example, if your fibromyalgia symptoms include dizziness or fluctuations in your heart rate or blood pressure, doing exercise in a standing position may not be the best choice for you. If you have problems tolerating heat, working out in a warm water pool might not be a good idea either. If you are dealing with moderate to severe fatigue, just getting to and from an exercise class might be more activity than your body can handle; between the travel and the class, you might find yourself completely wiped out.

When it comes to how much exercise and for how long, I think the adage start low and go slow perfectly applies here. Since it's so easy to overdo it and derail your exercise efforts, it really makes sense to start with just a few stretches done just a few times. Or maybe just a few minutes of walking or biking three times a week. If postexertional fatigue rears its ugly head it's a sign to cut back and try again. If you can tolerate just this little bit, then play it safe and add a tiny bit more over time: one new stretch, two more reps or one or two more minutes of cardio.

I share these thoughts with you today because I know that all too often the recommendation to exercise doesn't come with fibro-friendly instructions. My hope is that if you can remember that having fibromyalgia means having to redefine what the word exercise means, you can take that recommendation and make it work for you.

This post is for informational purposes only and doesn't take place of the advice of your health care team. (Yeah, the irony of this statement in light of the discussion above is not lost on me.)


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5 comments

Emily Ruth said...

Fantastic article and really great advice. Thankyou for sharing!

Migrainista said...

This is such a great post. I don't have Fibro but I found myself relating to it as someone who suffers from chronic pain. So much of what I do has to be modified in order to work with my pain. This is something I had to learn the hard way. I lost a good amount of time not doing stuff because I couldn't do it the way I used to.

ashpauls said...

Ugh it's so true! I am not saying all, but a LOT of people have hard times knowing where to start bc we really need to start off SLOW. No where near like it was before. I went to a physical therapist for fibro. and pots, and they had no clue... and I was sick for 3 weeks bed ridden from it. Now I go at MY pace bc no one knows our bodies better than us. Even if what I'm doing is something rediculously easy compared to what I used to do, it's important not to over do it. It reflects whether I can eat, clean up, shower, etc.

newt said...

Your post is soooooo accurate, and it sounds as if u have complications too. Mine r cardio(heart attack in 2007) and bipolar 2 depression. People surely don't understand...including doctors who of course wanted me to participate in a 1 hour cardio exercise group twice a week (30 nmin from my home)!! Trying to do ANYTHING 2 a week iss impossible now. I find it hard to commit to anything at all, in fear of letting people down because I'm too ill to show up. So I stay at home, and walk my dogs at night when I can. It's a lonely existence, and I am a shell of the woman I used to...only 50 pounds heavier on the shell end, which is another complication! Great info...it's so nice to be understood!

Lee said...

This is so true and sometimes I do get upset that the healthy fit person behind the desk is just saying exercise more, walk more etc. Thanks and you have been added to Fibro Bloggers Directory with your spectacular blog. Please drop by to pick up a badge or visit another blogger or make a suggestion...whatever. Cheers.