Staying Fit with Fibromyalgia

Monday, June 18, 2007

By: Lara Ozenne

Reprinted from FMOnline

As FM patients know, the daily hurdle of dealing with pain, fatigue and life’s stresses can be difficult at best. With symptoms like these, it’s no wonder why just thinking about exercise can be frightening and exhausting!

Well, here’s a consolation: even the most in-shape, fitness and athletic enthusiasts battle the same psychological reaction at just the thought of exercise. Studies have proven that even at the suggestion of performing physical and mental exercises, over two-thirds of the study participants complained that they were tired and would prefer to go take a nap. Sound familiar?

But what you may not realize is that you don’t have to spend hours in a gym to see positive results. In fact, you don’t have to spend hours at all. It only takes 30 minutes per day to achieve optimum fitness. What’s even more interesting is that for those with sub-standard energy and stamina levels, such as people with Fibromyalgia, a gradual but consistent program is all that’s necessary to create a healthier body, promote restful sleep and achieve a more balanced lifestyle.

It is also interesting to note that fitness experts have already proven that exercising for over 30-40 minutes a day, whether it’s cardio-fitness exercise or muscle strength training, is anaerobic and degenerative. This means that after working out for a certain amount of time, the body switches from burning fat to burning muscle; and of course that’s not good. Why? Because lean muscle mass burns fat 24 hours a day and our muscles are our only natural defense against fat.

Additionally, the stimulation required to trigger muscle growth happens fast or not at all. Because of the exertion point, it’s also important to know that much of the progress made from exercising happens in recovery or during the downtime, so shorter intervals are key. I think most of us will agree that in addition to better health, we want to make the most of the limited time and energy we have. The important thing to remember is that fitness doesn’t happen overnight. The best regimen for improved health is to maintain short daily workouts targeted toward a variety of muscle groups.

What’s Involved?

Fitness training consists of many techniques, but what we are going to focus on are low- impact, contracting, isometric-type movements to develop proper muscle density. This means our goal is lean, healthy muscle mass. Regardless of whether you are a soccer mom with FM or Hercules, the rule applies to all: you must improve the muscle density before It can truly work for you and burn fat. Isometric exercise is excellent for balanced toning of the muscles without additional stress on the joints. There is also less risk of injury since the technique requires minimal movement.

Since most of these exercises can be performed in a sitting or lying down position, we recommend that you treat yourself to some nice comfy pillows and your favorite music while doing your reps. Making it fun and doing something consistently that is going to improve your health, is sure to boost your morale.

Where to Target

If you are like many others with FM, you are probably concerned about how your pain is going to hinder the success of your fitness program. The idea of exercising when it hurts is not thrilling. Fear not! The specific areas of your body that you are going to focus on will be the opposite of the areas of your body that are currently in pain. If your level of exertion needs to be adjusted for the amount of pain you are in, that is okay. Think of it as outsmarting your pain. In terms of avoiding the areas that are in pain, it’s going to be important to train your mind while you are training your body. What this implies is that you must evaluate your body and recognize where it doesn’t hurt, so that you target your exercise on the pain-free areas.

For example, divide your body into two main parts, upper and lower. Then think of it in terms of exercise. Your upper body consists of five main targeted groups:

  • Chest
  • Shoulders
  • Back
  • Triceps
  • Biceps

The lower body also consists of five areas:

  • Quadriceps
  • Hamstrings
  • Calves
  • Gluteus
  • Abs

Knowing that you have ten primary areas to work on gives you options and the freedom to make choices when it comes to exercising. The trick is to pick one or two of the areas that are opposite to the places you are experiencing pain, and zoom in on that place (or places) for the day. By concentrating on areas that are pain-free, you are also changing your mental focus away from the pain. This practice can be beneficial from both a physical and mental standpoint.

Getting Started

Once you’ve decided which muscle group you’re going to work on for the day, the first step is to make sure that you are comfortable and ready to begin. Be sure to wear clothes that “breathe” and allow for proper movement.

Stretching: One of the most important, but often forgotten, factors in exercise and muscle toning is to always stretch out, at least for a few minutes before and after working out. This will ensure proper functioning of the muscles and avoid injury. Slowly and gently stretch and then hold the position, avoiding bouncy, aggressive movements. Stretching will also promote flexibility and good circulation.

Breathing: The key to burning fat is increased circulation and oxygenation. Your muscles need oxygen, so remember to regulate your breathing and relax. Don’t hold your breath during exertion. Make sure you are exercising in an environment that has the proper room temperature and adequate airflow.

Water: Burning fat does little good unless your body has a way to rinse the toxins out of your system. Be religious about drinking water before, during and after exercising. Detoxification is essential for eliminating the aches and pains of post-exercise, so drink up!

The Workout

The term “sets and reps” is common jargon on the fitness scene, when referring to using weights in repetition. We’re going to use it to refer to “exertion time.” When training a muscle group, it is helpful to concentrate and focus on the specific area you are working. Also implement a counting technique to ensure equivalency in effort. If you have a stopwatch, great! Time yourself during both exertion and rest periods.

Isometric Holds: Your workout should include four main sets of effort, and one final set of “real effort,” with rest time in between. The actual exertion will be a “contract and hold” exercise. Focus on the muscle, slowly contracting it into a tight position, holding tight for approximately 2 1/2 minutes, and then slowly releasing. (Do not hold the position for longer than you feel is appropriate.) Then rest for one full minute and start again. Sounds pretty easy, right? The trick is to repeat the last set and hold the position as long as you possibly can. By the end of these “contract and hold” sets, you’ll feel the difference. Remember to be cautious, but you want to tire the muscle during each workout to be effective. This is the first step to building muscle endurance and increasing your pain threshold.

Resistance: Over time, mastery of basic contractive exercise, or any exercise is inevitable. The muscle tissue will become firmer and stronger, which means that you’ll need to step up your routine a bit to continue progress. Your muscles will become adjusted to the “same old” routine, but new forms of resistance can be added (such as light weights) to increase muscle stamina, providing more energy for you. A small weight adjustment is all that is needed to upgrade your routine. Use the same principle of four interval sets with rests and one final set. The important thing is that you increase your reps a little at a time.

Sample Exercises

Here are a few simple daily exercises that you can do while listening to music or even watching TV.

Quads: Sitting upright in a firm chair, extend both legs straight out, pointing the toes, contracting the thigh muscles and holding the position for one set. Repeat. Also remember to flex the feet and hold for a good stretch.

Calves: Stand in a doorway with your feet about shoulder width apart. Rise up on your toes as high as you can, holding for one set. Slowly lower yourself down. Repeat. Add hand weights for resistance to increase exercise benefit.

Shoulders/Arms: Sit holding your arms out to the side at shoulder height, contract the arm completely and then hold for one set. Repeat. Really straighten the arm hard to contract the triceps.

Gluteus: Lie cushioned on the floor with knees bent, feet shoulder width apart, soles of your feet flat on the floor. Gently lift buttocks up (keeping back to the floor) and contract tightly. Hold for one set. Repeat. (Hint: fold a pillow between your knees and squeeze tight to work your inner thighs as well.)

Hamstrings: Lie in the same position as for the Gluteus exercise, but put your feet out further from the buttocks, with your knees still bent. Flex your feet, lift your buttocks up, contract and hold. This works the back of the upper thighs. If using movement with these contractions, make sure you use slow control in both the positive and negative direction. Proper biomechanics will help you get in better shape faster.

The best thing you can do for your body and pain is to develop a program that works just for you. Do what you can and do not overdo it, especially if you’re working with resistance. Remember not to stress yourself with a feeling of obligation where fitness is concerned. This should be considered recreational, a time for “me” to enjoy. Let yourself use the exercise as therapy for whatever ails you that day. Remember to cushion yourself with pillows to protect the tender spots and stay consistent within your pursuit for better health. You’ll find that a daily fitness routine can do wonders for curing the blues.

The Wellness Formula

Just like the dozens of alleged “cure-alls” for Fibromyalgia that are floating around out there, there are even more half-baked fitness and health regimens that claim to work for everyone. Remember that each individual is unique in their capabilities and limitations, so you should look carefully at yourself and find out what works best for you.

By listening to your body, you might hear the sweet song of well-being inside, even if you don’t always feel that way. Here are some tips for building a good wellness formula:

  • Take leave of anyone who tells you that it does not require some hard work to achieve a health body.Take leave of anyone who tells you that it does not require some hard work to achieve a health body.
  • StStick to the basics: a balanced diet, exercise and supplemental support (multivitamins) have always been three good ingredients for improved health.ick to the basics: a balanced diet, exercise and supplemental support (multivitamins) have always been three good ingredients for improved health.
  • Don’t give up or give in. FM is tough, but things could always be worse. Your adversities can make you strong!on’t give up or give in. FM is tough, but things could always be worse. Your adversities can make you strong!
  • Ask your physician about current research in Fibromyalgia and new treatment options. Ask your physician about current research in Fibromyalgia and new treatment options.
  • KnKnowing your limits is the best prevention to health downswings, especially when dealing with FM. Try to avoid stress and negative environments. Surround yourself with the positive.owing your limits is the best prevention to health downswings, especially when dealing with FM. Try to avoid stress and negative environments. Surround yourself with the positive.
  • Take care of what’s important, and that’s you. This is your life, right now. Take charge and do things that make you feel good. After all, your body is the only one you you’ve got!