When you are aching all over with a fibromyalgia flare-up, it seems counterintuitive to strap on your running shoes and go for a jog. In the past, doctors have recommended rest when pain flares up, but new research has shown that exercises for fibromyalgia help during a fibromyalgia flare-up and may actually help prevent them from occurring in the first place.
We think the 11 best exercises for fibromyalgia include:
- Squats and boxing
- Neck stretches
- Strength training
- Upper body stretching
- Tai chi
- Body weight exercises
Benefits of exercises for fibromyalgia
Exercise has multiple benefits for everyone, but for fibromyalgia sufferers the benefits go far beyond just helping alleviate pain.
- Exercise increases the levels of serotonin in our brains. This “feel-good” hormone can be present in decreased levels in fibromyalgia, which may also contribute to the development of mood disorders in fibromyalgia sufferers.
- Cortisol levels drop. Chronic pain can bring chronic stress, and chronic stress can cause a host of other health problems. Exercises for fibromyalgia can help manage stress levels and aid in relaxation.
- Exercises for fibromyalgia aid sleep. Fibromyalgia sufferers often have sleep disorders that can exacerbate pain. Physical activity during the day can promote better quality (and quantity) sleep at night.
- Exercise helps fight pain as well as a prescription. Recent research has shown that there is no statistically significant difference in pain relief achieved from exercise and that achieved from a prescribed non-opioid analgesic. While exercise may take more time for pain relief, there are no side effects and it is free.
Here are 11 of the best exercises for fibromyalgia.
1. Squats and boxing
Fibromyalgia affects mostly women (about 90% of sufferers are women), and in this video, the trainer offers a short, low-impact, strength-building exercise that can help those with fibromyalgia get started with exercise after a period of inactivity.
One of the best ways to ease into exercises for fibromyalgia that are gentle but effective is to go for a walk. It needn’t be a long walk or a vigorous one to have benefit, and you don’t have to walk an hour a day when you are just starting out.
Aim for 30 minutes of walking a day, but focus on three ten-minute walks to start. Use your dog as a motivator, or grab the kids after school and take the whole family for a walk around the block.
3. Neck stretches
Migraines and tension headaches can be a part of fibromyalgia, as our upper bodies hold tension when we are hurting. Gentle neck stretches combined with breathing can be a good way to release that tension and relax.
4. Stretches for upper body
Many fibromyalgia sufferers hold a tremendous amount of tension in their upper bodies. Gentle stretches that can be done in a chair can help keep these muscles loose and fluid.
5. Strength training
Aching muscles may balk at first when beginning strength training, but strength training is an important part of overall physical fitness. Working with a strength training video can be a good way to start, but remember to modify where you need do (including moving more slowly to start). If you don’t have dumbbells or want to start with lighter weights, grab a couple of canned goods and get started!
Swimming is one of the best exercises for fibromyalgia. Water offers both resistance and support and can be a meditative part of the day. Try swimming laps, treading water, and water aerobics for cardiovascular support.
7. T’ai chi
The slow, flowing movements of t’ai chi help to build balance, strength, and a quiet mind. Starting a t’ai chi series in a seated position can be helpful. Once strength and confidence progresses, a standing t’ai chi sequence can offer tremendous benefit for fibromyalgia patients.
Daily activities can help fibromyalgia sufferers get in some physical activity with little strain. Gardening is one of the best activities out there. From moving flowers around to bending and stretching, this pleasurable pastime is good for the body and the mind. Choose raised-bed gardens if squatting to the ground is too taxing.
A bike ride is a great way to get in a low-impact workout that moves the lower body without taxing it. Muscles and joints begin to warm and move more smoothly as you ride. Choose a paved road to begin with, and start with shorter rides, gradually building to longer excursions.
This practice is for every body, including those bodies that are suffering from fibromyalgia. Yoga is a low-impact, gentle way to stretch and strengthen all of the muscles groups in the body. It also helps to properly re-align bones so that the body is more supported by the skeleton. A simple, 20-minute yoga routine completed in a chair is a great place to expand into after stretching separate parts of the body (e.g., neck and shoulders).
11. Bodyweight exercise
Bodyweight exercises for fibromyalgia are an easy and convenient way to exercise because the only equipment you need is yourself. Look for videos or classes that allow you to go at your own pace and adapt the exercises to both make them easier to get started and more challenging as you progress.
Exercises for fibromyalgia have some special considerations, especially if you are suffering from a comorbid condition. It’s important to talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise program.
How to get started with exercises for fibromyalgia
Other things to keep in mind as you begin include:
- Start slowly: Even if all you can manage is a three-minute walk to start, take that three-minute walk.
- Be patient: Because you will start slowly, you may not see results as quickly. Be patient with yourself and your body. Allow yourself to go at the pace you need.
- Include your family and friends: Recruiting workout partners can be a great way to stay motivated.
- Move every day: A little movement every day goes a long way.
- Support your exercise with good food: An anti-inflammatory diet may help ease the pain of inflammation both before and after your workout.
Do you already exercise to manage fibromyalgia? What exercises work for you? If you need more focused help for your fibromyalgia pain, contact a pain doctor in your area for help.