Fibromyalgia: Does exercise help or hurt?

You may be reluctant to exercise for fear that it'll aggravate your symptoms, but research shows that regular moderate exercise lessens pain and improves function.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

While the pain and fatigue associated with fibromyalgia may make exercise and daily activities difficult, it is crucial to be physically active. Research has repeatedly shown that regular aerobic exercise improves pain, function and overall quality of life.

Won't exercising make my pain flare up?

You may be reluctant to try exercise for fear that it will make your pain worse. But starting low and going slow helps keep symptoms from flaring up. Consider starting with walking two minutes a day and gradually work your way up to 30 minutes two or three times a week.

It's crucial to pace yourself. If you do too much on your good days, you may have more bad days. If an exercise causes you increased pain for more than two hours, reduce the time or intensity of that exercise next time.

What type of exercise should I do?

Appropriate exercises include low-impact aerobic activities, such as walking, swimming, biking and water aerobics. A physical therapist familiar with fibromyalgia can help you develop a home exercise program. This is especially important if you've become significantly deconditioned. A good goal is to work up to at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week.

Strength training, also called resistance training, may be helpful but hasn't been as extensively researched. Resistance training is a type of exercise that may involve lifting weights, using resistance machines or using elastic resistance bands. Strengthening exercise also appears to reduce pain and improve quality of life and muscle strength.

What are some other options?

Although less studied, mind-body practices may help improve symptoms and overall well-being. Yoga and tai chi are practices that combine meditation, slow movements, deep breathing and relaxation. Both have been found to be helpful in controlling fibromyalgia symptoms.

Nov. 11, 2016 See more In-depth

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