In previous blogs we have explored how gentle exercise may help to improve fibromyalgia symptoms. Studies have shown that low impact and non-weight-bearing aerobic exercises (such as walking, swimming and cycling) can help to build up endurance levels and improve flexibility. In addition, other reports suggest that gentle, measured exercise can also help to reduce pain and tenderness in muscles. It is worth bearing in mind, however, that you may feel tired and a little sore after starting a new exercise routine. This is because you may be using muscles that have not been used for a while! Expert rheumatologist Ronenn Roubenoff explains:
“Many of my fibromyalgia patients tell me their pain worsens when they exercise – particularly if they are just starting an exercise program. The truth is that you will have to stick with an exercise program for about six weeks, exercising two or three times per week, to start feeling or seeing any benefit.”
For this reason, it is also incredibly important not to embark on a new exercise regime without first consulting your GP or physiotherapist. Take heart as stamina builds up over time and, if you can discipline yourself to exercise little and often, you should really start to feel some benefits.
Going swimming is a great way to gently ease yourself into a new exercise routine, and what more inspiration do you need to get into a pool than the fantastic weather that we have been experiencing this Summer?
Benefits of swimming
So what are some of the reported benefits of swimming in relation to your fibromyalgia symptoms? In summary, swimming is often recommended because it:
- Uses all of the major muscle groups;
- Can have cardiovascular benefits;
- Has strength-building effects;
- Is non-weight bearing;
- Helps to keep joints flexible.
In addition, buoyancy helps fibro sufferers to avoid jarring movements, as well as giving an expanded range of motion. The other major benefit of swimming is that it is great for all fitness levels and you can set yourself a pace that you feel comfortable with. Doris Cope, MD, Director of Pain Management at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center advises that: “warm water can be very comforting. The exercise gets blood flow to muscles and tendons. And if you’re in the water, your joints are not being stressed during exercise.”
Other forms of aquatic exercise
A Spanish study, of 33 women with fibromyalgia, demonstrated that: “a warm water pool-based exercise program for 12 weeks (2 times/week) led to a positive immediate decrease in level of pain in female patients with fibromyalgia.”
The women involved in the study also reported feeling less depressed and more sociable, as a side-benefit of their aquatic activities.
So, if swimming does not appeal to you, there are number of other alternative pool-based exercises that you might also like to consider, including:
- Musically-based aqua aerobics
- Underwater jogging or stretching
- Underwater relaxation therapies such as yoga and tai chi.
The great thing about water exercise classes is that you don’t need to be a super confident swimmer to take part. Whilst in some classes you bob in deep water (with foam belt or life jacket), in others you work out in shallow water with your head completely above water.
Check with your local leisure centre for suitable water-based exercise activities, and remember to inform the instructor about your condition (as well as your level of swimming ability) before embarking upon a new class.
Do you suffer from fibromyalgia and have tried swimming or other water-based exercises as a method of improving your symptoms? We’d love to hear about your own experiences.