Let’s face it, living with fibromyalgia is painful and exercise is often the last thing our bodies wants to do. But did you know that new research suggests that deep breathing, such as that recommended in yoga and meditation, can lower pain levels both for healthy people and some people with fibromyalgia? Deep breathing, such as that practiced during yoga, meditation, and exercise, helps by increasing blood flow and circulation while also slowing down the heart rate allowing relaxation to occur. It is during this state of relaxation that we are able to function at more optimum levels and feel a lot less pain and stress.
When you have fibromyalgia, there is a tendency for clenching to occur, which is an involuntary reaction to stress. This clenching reduces blood flow to the muscles, which then causes pain. That’s why a stressful lifestyle — plus too much couch time — is a double-whammy for conditions like fibromyalgia. Too little exercise slows blood flow to muscles, so fibromyalgia pain just gets worse. However, studies show that walking, stretching, swimming, and strength training all help control fibromyalgia pain and muscle tenderness and that exercise just three times a week improves life on many levels.
Exercise can not only help you feel good and look good, but it can relieve fatigue and depression as well as help people to feel better about themselves, and more in charge of their lives. Studies have shown conclusively that exercise is the best thing for depression because it releases endorphins, which are ‘feel good’ chemicals released in the brain and which helps us to go beyond our ordinary pain thresh hold and push beyond boundaries that might otherwise be limiting us. In addition, exercise helps your mood, helps your sleep, and definitely helps your pain.
In addition to the stress relieving aspects, research also has shown that a well-balanced program of regular exercise can produce benefits to the muscular, cardiovascular, respiratory systems, digestive, and other systems, helping to build and maintain overall good health. Exercise will definitely help strengthen your immune system and this is necessary if we are to heal from not just fibromyalgia, but anything that ails us at all.
In order for an exercise program to produce maximum benefits, it must contain the following three components: stretching, aerobic exercise, and strength training.
1. Stretching helps to keep a muscle at its optimal length. Under the stress of repeated contractions, a muscle tends to shorten as each individual muscle fiber becomes stronger. Within groups of opposing or antagonistic muscles, one group of muscles or muscle fibers usually becomes stronger than the rest. This leads to muscle shortening on the side with the stronger fibers. Stretching promotes length. A stretched muscle fiber is stronger because it contracts over a greater length. Stretching also helps to promote balance and keeps joints limber. Gentle stretching should be done both before and after a round of aerobic exercise or strength training.
2. Aerobic exercise is the heart of any program. Aerobic exercise should begin with a warm-up of about 5 minutes after stretching. The warm-up allows the cardiovascular and respiratory systems to gear up for increased oxygen demand. The aerobic cycle then involves a period of between 20 and 30 minutes of muscle work in which the muscles undergo a repetitive cycle of contraction and relaxation. This cycle increases the muscle stamina and, with consistency, can greatly increase endurance. Aerobic exercise prepares the muscle for the challenge of strength training.
3. Strength training uses resistance against active contraction to build muscle mass. This is known as the primary principle; all muscle tissue must work gainst a load to become stronger and larger. A muscle used repetitively against little or no load will not increase in strength, although some increase in size may occur. To increase strength, a muscle must be consistently contracted to at least 50% of its maximum length. This cycle should be repeated as 3 sets of 6 contractions, 3 times a week. At this level, the muscle achieves maximum strength while avoiding fatigue.
Any cycle of aerobic or strength training should be followed by a cool down period. This involves reducing a muscle group’s workload gradually over at least 10 minutes. A cool down helps keep the blood from returning to the heart too quickly. It lets the heart and lungs re-adjust to a resting level and allow the circulatory system adequate time to flush out waste products built up during exercise.
A consistent regimen of appropriate exercise 3 times a week increases muscle size and strength and strengthens the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. The immune system is also stimulated by exercise. Even moderate regular exercise has the additional benefits of weight control, strengthening of the bones, decreased blood pressure, and decreased risk of heart attacks.
Although exercise is not always a comfortable activity to engage in when you have fibromyalgia, muscle endurance increases your capabilities and helps to make life a little less stressful and a little more easy. Think of it this way, you can have weak muscles that hurt or strong muscles that hurt — which would you prefer? Just start with ten minutes a day and build up gradually. Remember to go at your own pace and the remember the adage, “listen to your body”, as this cannot be overstated with fibromyalgia. Proceed like a tortoise: slow and steady. And, like the tortoise, you too will reach the finishing line and gradually get stronger each and every day.