By: Elisabeth Deffner
Reprinted from FMOnline

Tone your muscles. Lose weight. Sleep better. Increase your endurance.

Everyone knows the benefits of exercise. What you may not know is that you can enjoy these benefits despite fibromyalgia—and that exercise can even help you manage your FM symptoms.

“You have to be physically active, and you have to move, or your fibromyalgia will get worse—but you have to do it in a very sensitive way, or you’ll have more pain, more fatigue, more disrupted sleep,” says Dr. Kim Dupree Jones, assistant professor at Oregon Health and Science University’s School of Nursing. “It’s good for you, but it can be bad for you.”

Start Off on the Right Foot

Your first step is choosing an activity you enjoy—an activity you used to participate in before you developed FM, or one you’d like to try. Researchers say that people with FM can undertake any activity they enjoy—as long as they adapt it to meet their needs.

Next, determine how you to adapt the activity you’ve chosen. Will you need special tools, like blocks or pillows, to support you while you’re taking part in it? Do you need to find a particular location—like an Arthritis Foundation heated pool—to work out? Do you want to search for other FM patients to take part in a group activity, like an adaptive yoga class or an aerobics class for people with FM? Or will you contact an exercise professional for advice?

Finally, follow these steps to develop an exercise program that will help you gain—muscle strength, flexibility, better circulation, a more toned physique—without causing you pain:

Getting Started

  • Ask for help: If you have moderate to severe FM symptoms, or if you can’t determine the appropriate intensity level of your exercises, contact a certified exercise trainer, an exercise physiologist, or other certified exercise health professional for advice.
  • Balance: According to Jones, balance is increasingly becoming recognized as an issue for people with FM. To protect yourself, you may want to avoid ice-skating, tap-dancing, or other activities where there is a high likelihood of you falling down.
  • Take preventive measures: Before exercising, take a dose of your pain medication. By the time you’re finished working out, it will kick in and help you manage any muscle soreness that may result. You may want to take another dose of pain medication before you go to sleep as well.

Working Out

  • Stay in the “hoop”: Researchers at OHSU suggest pretending that you’re wearing an old-fashioned hoop-skirt around your neck. As you exercise, try to keep your hands and feet within the bounds of that imaginary skirt. That will prevent you from over-reaching and straining your muscles.
  • Don’t be so intense: High-intensity, high-impact activities may be counter-productive, causing a flare that puts you out of commission for some time. Exercise at a moderate intensity today so that you can exercise again tomorrow.
  • Focus: Keep your workout a multitasking-free zone! If you try to walk on a treadmill while returning phone calls, fibrofog may make it easy for your attention to splinter, which could lead to a workout accident.
  • Use the right tools: Chairs, blocks, and pillows can provide the additional support you need to participate in an activity comfortably. Adapt exercises so that they don’t overstress or overstretch your muscles.
  • Let your muscles rest: If you are working out, take a break every 20 minutes. Also let your muscles rest in between contractions to decrease the likelihood of post-workout soreness.
  • Breathe: Inhale before you start an exercise repetition, then blow the air out as you contract your muscles. After you complete a rep, inhale and exhale slowly before beginning again.

Cooling Down

  • Don’t overdo: Stop your workout at a point when you feel that you could go for a while longer.
  • Slow down: At the end of your workout, continue your activity at a half tempo. Do this for five minutes, enough time to allow the blood that has flowed to your extremities to flow back to your torso—and your heart.
  • Stretch: Now that your muscles are warmed up, you can safely stretch and do flexibility and range-of-motion exercises. Research has found that holding stretches for long periods of time can be detrimental. So instead of holding a stretch for 20 seconds, hold it for 10 and then switch sides to stretch for another 10.

Remember to give yourself the time you need to ease back into a fitness routine. It can take six weeks to two months for your body to get accustomed to regular activity—and for you to determine the length of the workout, the types of exercises, and the intensity that are appropriate for you.