How can exercise help with your pain?
It seems counter-intuitive at first, that exercise, something that causes you pain, can actually help manage your chronic pain. Exercise has an effect on the stress-response system in your body, which is one of the same systems that many believe malfunctions in individuals with chronic pain. Exercise can improve the balance of your stress hormones, which also helps with many of the other symptoms associated with fibromyalgia–especially sleep and anxiety. Many research studies show that exercises that get your heart rate up can help you sleep better at night (as long as you aren’t exercising too close to your bedtime!) This is why we recommend starting off with exercise, it is an important first step in managing FM symptoms.
Exercise also comes with other benefits for pain. Moving more can help increase the mobility of your joints and decrease stiffness. It helps keep your muscles strong, which in turn provides support helping provide protection for your joints and keeping your bones strong. Regular exercise can also help you maintain or get to a healthy weight, which means less stress and pain in your joints when you’re moving around in your normal day to day activities.
How to get started with an exercise routine that fits you
An exercise plan is not one size fits all, it needs to be tailored to your needs and your tolerance. A lot of this depends on your current fitness level. When you first start exercising, you should start a lower level and exercise up until the level you feel you can still tolerate, which is going to be a bit different for everyone. As you begin exercising more regularly, your tolerance level for the exercise will slowly begin to increase as well, so you can slowly begin to progress into longer or more intense exercise sessions. You should try to incorporate a mix of cardiovascular, strength training and stretching into your exercise routine.
Try to find exercises that you enjoy doing to help you keep up with it. You can try walking, biking, dancing, yoga, gardening, anything that you like that also keeps you moving is a great start to becoming more physically active! It also helps if you can find a friend or two to exercise with you, keeping the exercise more social and developing a stronger commitment to continuing. Beginning a new exercise routine is a challenging task and sticking with it can be even harder. If you’re not able to make it to or through a planned workout, don’t get discouraged, lifestyle changes take a long time to make. Take a rest day if needed and start out with small goals that are achievable for you, whether it’s walking for five minutes a day or thirty, any increase in activity will help you manage your symptoms better long-term.
Becoming active doesn’t mean that you have to start paying for a gym membership. There are many small changes you can make during your day to slowly increase your activity. Choosing the stairs over the elevator, parking a little further away from the store, walking your dog, cleaning your house and gardening are all examples of small changes you can make to become more active. The effects of both exercise and increases in your daily activity are cumulative, the more you do, the greater the benefits!
Physical Activity Guidelines
Meeting the US recommendations for physical activity is a lofty goal for anyone (only about 23% of Americans met the goal last year), but you can use it as a guideline for the types of exercise that you should be doing and even set it as a goal for the future to work up to. They recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week, which is equivalent to 30 minutes of exercise for 5 days. Moderate-intensity activity would include walking at a brisk pace, hiking, dancing, yoga. It should cause your heart rate to increase and your breathing to quicken, but you should still be able to carry on a conversation at a moderate-intensity. The more you are able increase your exercise, the more health benefits you will get from it.
They also recommend doing muscle-strengthening activities that involve all major muscle groups on two or more days a week. This can include using free weights or weight machines, or even exercises that use your own body weight. You should do a single set of each exercise, using a weight or resistance level that is heavy enough to tire your muscles after about 12-15 repetitions of the exercise. Make sure your movements are smooth and fluid and try to perform exercises through a full range of motion. If you’re worried about your exercise form being wrong, consult a physical therapist or health professional to help you get your routine started.
When you exercise, you should also incorporate stretching to help improve your flexibility and mobility. The best time to stretch is once your muscles are already warmed up from a bit of exercise. Hold static stretches for 20 to 60 seconds, keeping your muscles relaxed and avoid using any bouncing movements to get a deeper stretch, as this can result in overdoing the stretch and potentially pulling a muscle.