Lifestyle Activity & Exercise

If you have chronic pain and are already physically active, congratulations! Keep up the good work!

If you have chronic pain and fatigue, and are not currently active, think about becoming more active to help control your symptoms and improve your quality of life and well-being.

You have the ability to manage your symptoms and improve your day-to-day life by becoming more physically active. It is a powerful concept that can easily be a reality.

The benefits of being physically active

With regular, consistent physical activity, people with chronic pain receive the same fitness benefits as healthy people, including a stronger heart and skeletal muscles, better lung function and breathing capacity, modest weight control, lower blood pressure and an overall reduction in risk factors for lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, etc.

In addition, you may notice a few additional benefits that are specific to fibromyalgia symptoms, including:

Lifestyle activity vs. exercise

Lifestyle activity and exercise are important components of a well-rounded pain management plan. Though similar, each refers to different types of physical activity across a vast spectrum.

1. Lifestyle activity includes physical actions you perform as part of daily living. Lifestyle activity is generally not planned and occurs as a consequence of working, traveling, raising children, etc. - just plain living. While some lifestyle activities are more strenuous than others, all can generally be done without worsening symptoms. And, like structured exercise, they have been shown to improve pain and fatigue.

2. Exercise includes physical actions that use repetitive motion of large muscle groups to improve physical fitness. Often, "exercise" is structured by the amount of time, intensity and type of activity. Aerobic exercise, strength training and flexibility training are key elements of a well-rounded fitness program.

More than likely, you will engage in both exercise and lifestyle activity over the course of your life depending on your goals and your life schedule. The effects of both are cumulative. In other words, it all adds up. Little snippets of activity throughout the day are better than no activity at all. You will likely feel better over time by becoming more active on a daily basis, and you will have more energy to devote to yourself, your family, your work and, of course, fun.

Choosing the “best” activities for chronic pain and fatigue
Remember, some activity is better than none! Choose activities that you enjoy (or at least find tolerable) and that are convenient to your work or home. This will make it easier for you to begin participating in them and, more importantly, stick with them over time.

When choosing activities, be mindful of your physical limitations and make adjustments to suit your needs. There are many ways to do this, including reducing the intensity of a movement. For example, if an aerobic DVD requires you to jog in place, try marching in place instead. Or if a treadmill (weight-bearing) is too strenuous on your joints, try a stationary bike or pool instead (non weight-bearing). Minor adjustments like these can make activities more comfortable so you'll be more likely to do them and get more out of them.

If you are considering adding structured exercise to your life, start with aerobic activities (walking, swimming/water aerobics, running, bicycling, etc.) These activities increase your heart rate and breathing rate, as well as your body temperature so you sweat. These are normal responses to exercise. Typically, aerobic activities lead to the greatest benefits for fibromyalgia symptoms. Think about adding flexibility training and strength training later after your body has adapted to the overall increase in activity.

Becoming more physically active

There are no concrete rules about the best way to become more active. Many factors impact where you begin and how you progress, such as your energy level on a given day or week, a recent flare, your life schedule, what facilities are available to you, etc.
Two key factors to effectively incorporate activity into your life are:

Proper exercise techniques and other tips, such as being fitted for the appropriate walking or running shoes, talking to an exercise instructor, adjusting exercise equipment (bike, weight machines, etc.) to suit your body, and having good posture and a stable stance while weight training, will go a long way toward enhancing your experience and allowing you to get the greatest possible benefit with the least harm. Another way to keep you motivated to stay active is to have an exercise partner or work-out buddy. Having a friend encourage you along the way can make exercise a lot easier and more fun!

When you start to increase your activity, whether it is for the first time in your life or after a break from regular activity, always start low and go slow

Don't be afraid to push yourself a little bit. Physical activity should be more strenuous than you are used to doing for your body to adapt and grow and for your symptoms to improve. For instance, you'll notice that when you first start walking, one lap around the block might feel hard; but after a few weeks of regular walking, that same block won't feel quite as difficult to you. You've adapted to the demands of completing one lap and are ready to add another.

This won't happen overnight, but it will happen. It's all up to you. You are the one who will be active. You are the one who decides what to do and how much. You are the one who can help yourself feel better by living an active life.

10 things to remember:

For general health and fitness news, as well as exercise tips and guidelines, check out the following websites:

Arthritis Foundation
The American Chronic Pain Association
American Council on Exercise
IDEA Health and Fitness Association